Parcel tax increase proposed for Petaluma parks and recreation

  • Ethan Hall, 5, stretches out to jump off the flooded swings at Wiseman Park in Petaluma.

A group of Petalumans has launched an effort to place a parcel tax on the November ballot that would pay for improvements to city recreational facilities, from walking trails to the community pool to athletic fields at local parks.

The ballot initiative would create a $52 annual parcel tax for 15 years, which organizers say will raise $12 million over that time.

J.T. Wick, a volunteer with Petaluma Friends of Recreation, said the grassroots effort grew out of a realization that if local residents wanted better facilities they couldn't wait on city government to make it happen.

"When it comes to taxes and fiscal policies, as an American, I'm frustrated; as a Californian I'm completely depressed," he said. "But as a Petaluman, this is something we can address. We can do it ourselves."

The tax, which would be charged to property owners as an assessment on annual property-tax bills, is a considered a "special tax" because the proceeds are restricted to a specific purpose, said City Attorney Eric Danly. Thus, the measure would need a two-thirds majority to pass.

Volunteers with Petaluma Friends of Recreation are raising funds and will begin gathering signatures this week. They need to turn in about 4,600 valid signatures from registered Petaluma voters by May 17 for it to qualify for the Nov. 6 ballot.

Committee co-chairwoman Carol Eber said the plan calls for leveraging the tax revenue to buy bonds that will also pay for long-term maintenance of the facilities. The committee chose projects that already have some funding.

The committee also has tried to keep the issue away from City Hall politics, which they say can be divisive and polarizing.

The ballot language calls for an oversight committee of citizens to be appointed by the city parks commission — not the City Council — in an effort to de-politicize the effort as much as possible, Eber said.

"There's a high level of distrust of the city and how it would spend the money," she said. The oversight committee would also be charged with disclosing to the public how much money has been raised and how it is being spent.

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