Backing sales tax hike, Petaluma council orders informal polling first

Petaluma City Council members on Monday expressed support for seeking an increase in the sales tax but first want to see if city employees, civic groups and the community would support a November ballot measure on it.

Informal polling will occur within the next three weeks, with council members and City Manager John Brown reporting their findings at the July 16 meeting. A ballot measure must be approved by Aug. 6 for the election.

Most council members said they would vote to place a tax measure on the ballot but questioned how much of an increase voters might support, how long a potential tax should be in place and whether any tax would pass.

The sales tax question was thornier for the council than that of increasing the city's transient occupancy tax, commonly called the hotel tax.

Faced with opposition Monday from hotel, inn and campground owners — virtually every sector of Petaluma's lodging industry — council members quickly rejected the idea of adding 2 percent to the 10 percent hotel tax.

Raising Petaluma's hotel tax to 12 percent would bring in about $270,000 more a year.

Petaluma receives about $10 million annually from the state in sales tax revenue. Increasing the existing 8 percent sales tax rate by a half a percentage point would generate an additional $5 million a year. A quarter-percentage-point increase would net half that.

Earlier this month, Sonoma voters approved a five-year, half-a-percentage-point sales tax increase by a wide margin.

But Petaluma council members weren't so convinced their voters would follow suit.

Gabe Kearney was "apprehensive" about pushing it. Teresa Barrett said a sales tax is her "least favorite" levy. Mike Healy said voters are "mad at government." Chris Albertson said they may be "tilting at windmills." Mike Harris said residents are "hurting out there."

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