Rohnert Park paving way to put sales tax renewal on fall ballot

Facing a $1.4 million budget deficit, Rohnert Park officials have in recent weeks laid the groundwork to ask voters later this year to extend Measure E, the half-cent city sales tax they approved in 2010.

The City Council has declared a fiscal emergency, the necessary condition for a special election; set aside $25,000 for such an election; and commissioned an opinion poll to gauge residents' sentiments about renewing the tax originally meant to end in 2015.

City Manager Gabe Gonzalez, who first floated the idea of an extension last year, said no official discussions about doing so are underway and that examining the possibility is just due diligence for a city with financial difficulties.

But the opinion poll results reviewed by the council on Tuesday concluded explicitly that "a measure to continue the existing ... sales tax measure for city services is viable for the Nov. 2013 election."

The poll of 376 residents cost about $30,000, Gonzalez said. It found that 69 percent of those interviewed would support extending the tax. Measure E passed with 55 percent of the vote and brought in 14 percent of the city's discretionary funds this year. It is projected to bring in $3.2 million next year.

Gloria Colter, assistant county registrar of voters, said a special election could cost between $46,940 and $84,492, based on Rohnert Park's 18,776 registered voters.

Councilman Jake Mackenzie on Wednesday all but said voters will be asked to renew the tax.

"I'm not prepared to say absolutely, 100 percent yes, but I think logic would tell you that having asked these questions ... we want to know what the likelihood of success would be," he said. "We've found that the likelihood of success is high."

The Sonoma County Taxpayers Association would have to study it further to decide whether to support or oppose any extension pitch, said the group's president, Dan Drummond.

But Drummond said his initial reaction was disappointment.

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