Sonoma County supervisors on Tuesday will consider adding a sales-tax hike to other tax measures already planned for the November ballot, but they are already facing resistance from the county’s two largest cities, Santa Rosa and Petaluma.
Petaluma City Council members unanimously passed a “resolution of nonsupport” for a possible quarter-cent sales tax increase countywide, saying it would undermine support for Petaluma’s one-cent tax hike already slated for the Nov. 4 vote.
City leaders also said the amount Petaluma would receive from a county measure wasn’t equitable and wasn’t enough to pay for one of the region’s most pressing needs — the completed widening of Highway 101.
While Santa Rosa hasn’t gone that far, its council sent a letter to county supervisors “encouraging the county to include flexibility” for cities to use potential county-tax proceeds for transit or auto-alternatives, not just roadwork as it’s worded, Councilwoman Erin Carlstrom said.
In its rare “nonsupport” resolution, Petaluma offered several arguments against a proposed countywide tax, including that it amounts to city dwellers subsidizing little-used county roads at the expense of widely used thoroughfares used in the population centers.
“It’s not sufficient, what’s offered to us, to take care of our roadwork needs,” Petaluma City Manager John Brown said. “It confuses the issue as to whose measure is going to get work done and whose isn’t. It also stacks measures on top of each other.”
In addition, Brown said, Petaluma’s polling shows significant opposition by local voters to a countywide tax measure if it’s on the same ballot as a city tax. Only 8.8 percent of Petaluma’s poll respondents said they would support a county roads tax with Petaluma’s also on the ballot.
County supervisors are scheduled to take up the sales-tax issue Tuesday morning, followed shortly thereafter by discussion about a possible library tax of an eighth of a cent.
Supervisors will decide among several options before them, including a quarter -cent general sales tax that could be spent on voter-identified priorities, a quarter -cent special tax that would be earmarked for roads or tabling the entire issue for another time.
Fourth District Supervisor Mike McGuire said county polling has shown about 69 percent support for either tax. A general tax with no restrictions on how it’s spent needs a simple majority; a special tax dedicated to roads would need two-thirds’ approval.
“Rather than make a prediction (on which way the board will vote), on Tuesday, we should have a robust discussion on either moving forward now or working with community groups, neighbors and stakeholders to tackle this legacy issue,” he said.
He said the county has already pumped $80 million into county road repairs but is still many times that behind in maintenance and improvements. He believes a county tax could pass.
The county’s proposal estimates that it would bring in $20 million in its first year and $537 million over a 20-year span.
“Over the last 24 months, $80 million has been invested in county roads, bridges, sidewalks, culverts and ditches,” he said. “What we know is, even after record levels of investment, there is still significant need.
“Sonoma County voters are extremely intelligent,” he said. “I’m confident they’ll take the time to review each measure and make an informed choice.”
He didn’t characterize Petaluma’s lack of support as detrimental to a county tax.
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