Petaluma voters to decide on parks tax

Petaluma voters will decide on Nov. 6 whether to tax property owners for the next 15 years to pay for new and improved parks and recreation facilities.

Supporters of Measure X say the $52-a-year parcel tax will provide enough funding over its term to renew Petaluma's aging facilities and attract new businesses, new residents and tourists to town, thus bringing in more sales tax and other revenue to boost the city's budget.

Opponents argue that voters shouldn't be asked to give more when the city has failed to curb other costs -- primarily ballooning public employee pensions -- and that the measure is misleading, incomplete and doesn't fulfill its financial promises.

Measure X, an initiative placed on the ballot by the community group Petaluma Friends of Recreation, would create an annual parcel tax on property owners for 15 years, which organizers say will raise $12 million. Single-family parcels, the most common, would be charged $52 a year while owners of housing complexes of more than 11 units would pay $500 a parcel. Senior citizens and others can seek exemptions.

The measure would fund improvements to a range of recreational facilities, from walking trails to the community pool to athletic fields at local parks. The tax would need a two-thirds majority to pass because proceeds are restricted to a specific purpose.

Supporters say the tax is crucial because the city hasn't prioritized recreation facilities for years, letting the field conditions worsen and facilities deteriorate.

"There is no Plan B," said supporter Carol Eber. "If this doesn't happen, nothing is going to happen. The council is not going to do anything because they're never done anything before and they're not awash in money to do anything now."

The Sonoma County Taxpayers Association has opposed the measure.

"The city of Petaluma really hasn't done enough with employee pensions to come to citizens to ask for more," said Dan Drummond, the group's executive director who lives in Petaluma.

Pensions are paid through the city's general fund while Measure X funds would go into a special parks fund and couldn't be used for pensions or any other purpose.

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