Sebastopol voters could see tax triple bill on fall ballot

  • The intersection of HWY 12 and 116 in downtown Sebastopol on Monday Feb. 18, 2013. Scott Manchester / The Press Democrat

The Sebastopol City Council plans to ask voters this fall for a hand in putting the city on stronger financial footing, through two tax measures expected to share ballot space with a proposed hike in the county sales tax, city officials said.

The entire package has council members fretting about voters' appetite for new taxes in a city that already has the highest sales tax rate in Sonoma County by a quarter-percent.

But the council has decided nonetheless to seek approval for an additional quarter-cent increase in the city sales tax, as well as an extension of an existing utility user tax.

"We know Sebastopolians support their community," Mayor Robert Jacob said.

Previous revenue enhancement measures have drawn strong support from local citizenry, city officials said, but the county's plans — still unclear — complicate the debate over which mechanisms will enable Sebastopol to successfully raise funds.

State law caps city and county sales tax collection at 2 percent combined in a given municipality. It's already 1.5 percent in Sebastopol, meaning the city and county would have to find a way to split the remaining 0.5 percent allowable, Sebastopol Administrative Services Director Karen Cano said.

If the county were to propose and win approval for half a cent, for instance, the city could expect to lose out entirely, even if local voters gave them the go-ahead, she and City Attorney Larry McLaughlin said.

Then there's the question of how many taxes voters are willing to approve, given what's likely now to be a ballot with two different sales tax increases and the utility user tax.

"How many times do we go back to the same well?" Councilman Patrick Slayter said during a discussion of the issue at the council's regular Tuesday meeting.

The council voted 4-1 to move forward with plans for the two tax proposals. Councilman John Eder opposed, believing, he said, that officials needed to explore their options and the likelihood of success more thoroughly.

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