Petaluma offers guarded support to transit tax

Sonoma County transportation planners are getting generally positive feedback from city leaders about putting a $10 vehicle registration transit tax on the November ballot, but several potential roadblocks remain.

Tuesday night, Petaluma's City Council supported putting the tax before voters, but expressed concern that it would pass, how the money would be spent and who would control it.

Santa Rosa and Sebastopol's councils were scheduled to hear the issue Tuesday night, but their discussions were running late into the night.

The Sonoma County Transportation Authority proposed a ballot measure in March, but dropped it amid concerns that it was being rushed onto the June ballot and questions about how spending priorities would be set.

Another consideration is exactly how the money, an estimated $5 million a year, would be divided among local governments, and what type of projects would qualify.

Only projects that have a demonstrable affect on congestion and air pollution could be considered, according to agency staff reports.

Petaluma Mayor Pam Torliatt suggested polling residents on how much they would agree to levy themselves, whether they preferred a regional pool of money or local control, and how important the inclusion of street maintenance or a sunset clause would be.

The SCTA is expected to make a decision this month on whether to put the new fee to a vote. The SCTA meets Monday. The deadline for qualifying for the November ballot is Aug. 6.

In meetings over the past two weeks, council members in Healdsburg, Cotati, Rohnert Park, Cloverdale and Windsor all showed at least some support for the tax. Several council members said they doubted taxpayers are inclined to tax themselves during such uncertain economic times.

Healdsburg and Cotati wanted a 20-year sunset clause to the tax, which would be added onto vehicle owners' annual DMV registration fees. Rohnert Park and Windsor wanted a guarantee that road maintenance projects could be funded through the measure.

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