Cotati's proposed sales tax hike may be headed to the courtroom before it reaches the ballot box.

The City Council unanimously voted in February to place a measure before voters that would extend and double a half-percent tax increase voters approved in 2010.

Last week, opponents of the measure, led by jewelry store owner Patty Minnis, a former councilwoman, submitted an argument against the measure meant to appear on the ballot as a counterpoint to the city's arguments in favor of the tax hike.

But the city elections officer has rejected the opponents' argument, saying it violated state election code by going over the 300-word limit.

Minnis disputes the city's tally, saying her count was 296 words. She said she sent an even shorter version, at 275 words, to the city by email before midnight of the March 10 deadline.

City Clerk Tami Taylor, also the city's elections officer, said she based her decision strictly on state guidelines.

"I tried to make this work, but it exceeded the maximum of 300 words," she said. "I was simply looking at compliance with the elections code. ... It's a narrow scope."

Now that the deadline has passed, no changes can be made, she said.

As it stands, the only argument voters will see will be the "yes" argument submitted by city leaders making their case for why the tax is needed.

Minnis called the rejection disappointing, but said opponents have contacted an attorney to push their cause. "They're just playing games," she said. "They don't want any opposition."

It wasn't clear what the city counted that Minnis didn't.

The new tax measure, to be called Measure G on the June 3 ballot, would extend a five-year, half-percent tax increase that voters passed in 2010. If approved, the new one-percent tax would expire after nine years.

City leaders contend the increase is crucial because the state took redevelopment money that previously stayed in the city and because budget cuts in the past four years haven't been enough to offset spending.

As in 2010, city leaders say that without the tax increase, the city's police department is in jeopardy.

(You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com.)

Crisis care: The new mental institutions

Sonoma County has a chronic shortage of psychiatric hospital beds. As as a result, a growing number of mentally ill residents are ending up in local emergency rooms and in the jail system. A four-part series, run on four consecutive Sundays, examines the causes and ramifications of the current state of the county’s mental health system, and the people who are impacted the most.

Aug. 6 — Hospitals: The closure of two psychiatric hospitals in Sonoma County has left a gaping hole.

Today — Jail: The Sonoma County Jail has become the largest psychiatric treatment facility in the county.

Aug. 20 — Solutions: Sonoma County explores ways to improve services to people suffering from severe mental illness.

Aug. 27 — Your response: Readers share their stories about Sonoma County's mental health system.

Ongoing coverage: www.pressdemocrat.com/crisiscare

Share your story

We want to hear about your experience with local psychiatric emergency services. What do you do when you or a loved one faces a mental health crisis? Have you or a loved one sat in a hospital bed waiting to be transferred to an out-of-county psychiatric hospital or other mental health facility? Have you or a loved one received psychiatric services in the Sonoma County Jail’s mental health unit? Please send a brief account of your experience to Martin Espinoza at martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com.