Petaluma to survey residents on tax options

Petaluma residents will get a chance to sound off on a potential new tax to pay for city services.

City Council members authorized City Manager John Brown to commission a survey of Petalumans to determine whether they are willing to approve a tax. The survey will also seek to find what kind of tax residents might support, how long it should last and what its proceeds should fund.

The hurdle to convince residents, many of whom suffered their own financial setbacks and belt-tightening during the recession, to tax themselves may be a high one. In the past decade, Petaluma voters have defeated both proposed tax increases put before them.

City leaders are considering possibly trying a third measure, likely for the November 2014 ballot. But first, Brown cautioned, the electorate's enthusiasm for a tax should be measured.

He laid out the case to council members Monday night.

City spending has been cut from about $49 million five years ago to $23.5 million last year. Spending rose to $35 million this year on higher employee retirement and health care costs. Reserve funds in most accounts have been used, he said.

Streets have gone unrepaired, city functions have been privatized, vehicles have been kept longer and the city staff has been reduced from about 350 to 280 today, Brown said.

"We've got a ton of unmet needs and we don't have the resources to take care of those problems," he said. "These are all pipers that need to be paid at his point. We really don't have the funding to cover our costs and a tax of some kind appears to be the answer to this problem."

Brown said he will seek private funding to pay for the survey, expected to cost between $20,000 and $40,000, depending on how in-depth it is.

All seven council members supported polling residents. But several doubted whether they would agree to tax themselves.

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