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Sonoma County supervisors float property tax idea for roads

Sonoma County supervisors Tuesday approved a small addition to the list of county roads targeted for long-term maintenance while signaling support for study of a possible property tax increase to boost road upkeep.

Board members cited county budget pressure and flat state road funding as two of the reasons for the makeshift moves and revenue search. The $4.5 million currently allocated toward long-term upkeep is woefully short of the $120 million maintenance backlog saddling the county's 1,382-mile network.

Supervisors tentatively agreed the problem may require a tax increase, possibly in the form of a countywide road maintenance district.

"Politically, it's not an easy thing to take on because it's going to take a huge amount of money to solve," said Supervisor David Rabbitt. "And it's probably going to come from the citizens of the county."

The three main taxing options supervisors discussed Tuesday involve a road maintenance district of some form that would require two-thirds approval by voters.

County administrative leaders said they also are studying other options to boost funding, including an increase in hotel bed taxes.

Any tax increase could face an uphill climb, several supervisors said, and would have to show taxpayers progress on other fronts, such as holding down rising retirement costs, one of the key factors of county budget problems.

"We are committed to solving one of our county's toughest challenges," Supervisor Mike McGuire said, referring to road upkeep. But "it's going to take additional revenue enhancements to be able to deal with this challenge."

The comments came before an audience including fiscal watchdogs, two supervisorial candidates and advocates of increased county funding for road maintenance.

One of those advocates, Michael Troy, co-founder of the new group Save Our Sonoma Roads, said he and his fellow members "did not start out to get a new tax" and didn't have a stance yet on whether they would back one.

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