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Petaluma calls for election to approve sales tax increase

  • (WWW.SHUTTERSTOCK.COM)

Petaluma voters will have the opportunity in November to decide whether they want to enact a permanent 1-cent, general sales tax increase on purchases made in the city.

The City Council on Monday night voted 5-2 to tentatively approve placing a measure on the fall ballot that would raise an estimated $10 million a year to pay for what residents said were their top priorities: road and traffic improvements, flood protection, the Rainier Avenue cross-town connector and other city services.

The proposed increase has no expiration date. It would raise Petaluma’s local sales tax rate to 9.25 percent, which would equal Cotati, whose voters raised its tax to that rate in June for the next nine years. Sebastopol will ask voters to hike that city’s tax to 9.25 percent in November.

Council members Mike Harris, Chris Albertson, Gabe Kearney, Mike Healy and Kathy Miller voted to place the measure before voters.

Mayor David Glass and Councilwoman Teresa Barrett opposed it over concerns about accountability with a general tax rather than a specific tax, which would lock in the proceeds to a particular purpose.

Polling conducted in the past several months showed a majority of Petaluma residents supported a long-term tax hike, but not by as much as a two-thirds majority required to pass a specific tax. Petaluma voters have rejected the last two special tax measures before them.

Glass and Barrett expressed concerns that future councils could spend general tax proceeds differently than this one intends.

Glass said he didn’t want general tax proceeds — which go into the general fund budget and can be spent however the council wants — to go toward employee pay raises and pensions, “particularly the expensive pensions” of public safety workers. The city has a $47 million unfunded pension liability looming over its long-term financial stability, the majority of that coming from police and firefighter pensions.

In an effort to assure voters the tax proceeds would be spent on streets, sidewalks, traffic relief and restoring some services and positions lost during budget cuts, the council agreed to install a five-member citizen committee that would oversee the funds. Also, the proceeds would be directed into a budget distinct from the larger general fund and its expenditures would be tracked annually.

You can reach Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @loriacarter.


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