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Sonoma County's transit authority meets Friday with only hours to decide whether or not to put a $10 car registration fee increase on the June ballot to fund buses, bike paths and a school safety program.

"Every poll we do, our residents say transportation is the most important issue and one of the things that are cut every year are mass transit funds," said Sonoma County Supervisor Valerie Brown. "We need to move people and get them out of a single-occupant vehicle."

The members of the Sonoma County Transportation Authority board, made up of representatives from the county Board of Supervisors and nine city councils, were supportive when it was first discussed Monday.

Now, however, divisions are showing up.

Healdsburg and Rohnert city councils oppose putting the proposal on the June ballot, a Petaluma councilman has reservations about the timing and Supervisor Paul Kelley said he opposes it altogether.

"It is going to be a very narrow decision one way or the other," said Jake Mackenzie, the authority's chairman and a Rohnert Park council member. "It will be a close thing."

The Sonoma County Transportation Authority measure would increase vehicle registration fees by $10. The measure would be on the June 8 ballot and need a majority vote to pass.

It would raise $105 million over 20 years that would partially restore services cut by Sonoma County's four bus transit agencies the past three years, fund the Safe Routes to School program, and help build bike and pedestrian paths.

The authority board deferred a final decision until today to allow some city councils to discuss the measure.

"It was the staff proposal to go in June," said Suzanne Smith, executive director of the Sonoma County Transportation Authority. "I think that in this economic climate it is difficult to ask for money whether it is June or November."

The fear is the November ballot will be crowded with competing measures asking for sales tax and vehicle fee increases.

The measure proposes using 73 percent of the money, or about $3.2 million a year, for the Sonoma County's four bus systems, offsetting some of the state cuts which the past three years have resulted in significant service reductions.

In the first year, the increase would provide $88,000 for Healdsburg, $431,000 for Petaluma, $1.2 million for Santa Rosa and $1.9 million for Sonoma County bus transit operations.

Fifteen percent, or $750,000 a year, is for the Safe Routes to School program that provides education and street safety improvements to encourage children to walk or bicycle to school.

Proponents argue that vehicle trips to school are the largest single traffic generator.

Twelve percent, or $600,000 a year, would be for building bicycle and pedestrian paths.

The 12-member board will act on the proposal at 1 p.m. Friday at the Sonoma County Transportation Authority's conference room, 490 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa.

It has until 5 p.m. to submit the measure to the county registrar of voters to qualify for the June ballot.

The Santa Rosa City Council on Tuesday endorsed the measure.

"This is a very progressive county, I think the voters will agree with this," said Councilman Gary Wysocki, Santa Rosa representative on the authority.

Authority chairman Mackenzie is a supporter personally, but will vote to oppose it at the direction of the Rohnert Park City Council.

The council Tuesday voted to oppose the measure because it would compete with Rohnert Park's own half-cent sales tax measure that will also be on the June ballot.

"The council felt it was bad timing in the sense we in the city of Rohnert Park have put a revenue enhancement measure on the June ballot," Mackenzie said.

The Healdsburg City Council at a special meeting on Wednesday also opposed it, complaining that it was too rushed and there are too many unanswered issues.

"As a council member, I was not happy to have this dropped on us at the last minute," said Mayor Jim Wood. "There were questions we didn't have answers to. Personally, I did not want to commit our city to spend money for an election without knowing all of the issues and what it would do for our community."

Petaluma Councilman David Glass also believes the measure has been hurriedly put together, and prefers it be put on the November ballot, but for the sake of unanimity said he would not be a lone vote opposing it.

"If we don't have all the &‘T's crossed and &‘I's dotted, people will just perceive it that government doesn't get it and that we need to live within our means," Glass said. "It's not that ... we keep getting money pulled away."

Supervisor Kelley opposes a vehicle registration fee altogether.

"A fee increase in these economic times when people are hurting in our community and the high unemployment rate ... it's not a good time to burden them with that," Kelley said. "I am also concerned with the lack of the amount of time taken to seriously review what the fee revenues could be used for."

The Sebastopol City Council is holding a special meeting this morning<NO1>friday<NO> to discuss the issue.

Vice Mayor Guy Wilson, the alternate member on the authority, supports it.

"You could easily spend $10 on a lunch or a cheap dinner," Wilson said. "What you get back is something much better."

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