A proposal to pay for a consultant to poll voters and gauge support for a parcel tax to support the college met with sharp criticism from some members of the Santa Rosa Junior College board of trustees Monday.
The board had called a special meeting Monday to discuss paying for the feasibility study.
But the proposal was rebuked by at least two board members on the grounds that Sonoma County voters are already stretched thin in a faltering economy and that the process that led to the proposal was too fast and had not included the whole seven-member board.
"I think we have this thing way too far down the road. I'm feeling way out of the loop," trustee Onita Pelligrini said.
Trustee Bob Burdo said board members should be talking to their constituents about a tax measure or other plans before the college considers spending money on a consultant and polls.
"It seems to me we ought to be figuring a few things out," he said. "We are going to hire somebody to find these things out for us? We are not doing our job. That's my opinion."
First-year college president Frank Chong countered that the administration is pursuing a diverse range of potential new revenue sources, while at the same time examining deeper cuts to manage a dramatic drop in state funding in recent years.
Nearly 26,480 students took spring classes at the initial enrollment period — down from 29,880 at the same time in 2011 and from 31,070 in the spring of 2010.
The number of sections for credit classes is down nearly 8.7 percent since last year and the number of non-credit classes has dropped nearly 39 percent.
Calling the college an economic engine in the community, Chong said the cuts are too deep not to consider a parcel tax.
"This engine is sputtering because we don't have the resources to do that job," he said.
"There is a sense of urgency moving forward," he said, saying if supported, a parcel tax could appear on the November or June 2013 ballot.
Parcel taxes require two-thirds voter support, more than the 55 percent demanded for general-obligation bonds. But unlike general obligation bonds which provide funding for capital construction projects, parcel tax revenues can be used for operational expenses and salaries.
Local voters in 2002 supported a $251 million bond measure that transformed both the main campus on Mendocino Avenue and the Petaluma campus.
There are about 180,000 parcels within the school district's voting area, according to school officials, but depending on how a measure is written, many of those can be excluded to allow seniors to opt out or keep multiple parcel owners from paying for more than one piece of land.
Officials said it was too early to consider how much the district might eventually propose as a per-parcel fee, or for how long the tax would be levied if voters approved.
"I don't think a property tax is thinking outside the box," Pellegrini said. "We have got to stop and find different approaches. I don't think a property tax is that."
But trustee Rick Call said he has talked over the idea of a parcel tax with people in the community and the general response has been positive.