A proposal to increase vehicle registration fees in Sonoma County by $10 a year to fund transit, bike lanes and a school safety program is being considered again by the county transportation authority, this time for the November ballot.
"I am seeking clarity, to get direction," said Suzanne Smith, executive director of the Sonoma County Transportation Authority. "It seemed there were a number of directors talking about going in November, and if they want to do that, I want to know what sort of process they want to proceed."
The 12-member board of directors March 12 narrowly rejected placing a measure on the June 8 primary ballot.
Proponents cited sharp cuts in state funding of transit for the need to put a local measure on the June ballot and not wait until November, when there are expected to be many more competing revenue measures.
Transportation authorities were given the ability to put such measures on the ballot, with only a simple majority needed to pass, under Senate Bill 83 that was signed into law last year.
Some directors felt the decision to go in June was being rushed, limiting opportunities for public comment or a clear explanation of where the money was to be used and why.
Others opposed it as an added tax measure during tough financial times. The proposal failed on a 5-6 vote, with seven votes needed to pass.
Smith said that although the proposal was rejected, some directors seemed to leave the door ajar to try in November.
"I think it is a policy decision and a political decision when to put a tax measure before the voters, and I am not sure whether they want to do that in November," Smith said. "That is why we are posing the question."
A $10 increase in the fee would raise $105 million over 20 years. As drafted, the measure would raise $3.63 million for Sonoma County, Santa Rosa, Healdsburg and Petaluma bus systems, $398,729 for the Safe Routes to Schools program and $697,775 for bicycle paths.
The proposal was opposed by the city of Rohnert Park, which has its own competing tax measure on the June ballot, and the cities of Cloverdale and Healdsburg.
Santa Rosa and Sebastopol endorsed it, but the Sonoma, Cotati and Windsor councils didn't have time to discuss the measure before the deadline to qualify for the June ballot.
Sonoma County Supervisor Paul Kelley said he continues to oppose the concept. "In these economic times, I don't see any reason to add another tax burden to the public," Kelley said. "I don't see where a vehicle license fee increase is benefiting those who are owning vehicles. If the fee was going to fill potholes and fix roads, that would be a benefit to the public, but I don't remember that being in the proposal last time."
Cloverdale Mayor Carol Russell said the council will reconsider its opposition, but still views it as a regressive tax.
"We have a lot of seniors and we have young working parents," Russell said. "Ten bucks is food on the table, 10 bucks is a pair of shoes for a kid."
Petaluma Councilman David Glass opposed putting it on the June ballot, but said he would consider supporting a November measure "if it was properly crafted."