Friction between Petaluma, Sonoma County over sales tax measures

  • Vehicles approach potholes along Washington Street, west of Petaluma Boulevard North, in Petaluma. (Christopher Chung / PD File)

With sales-tax increases planned for the November ballot in both Petaluma and the county, government leaders on both sides say they hope they can persuade south county voters to support a total 1¼-cent increase in their tax rate.

Petaluma intends to ask voters to approve a 1-cent permanent sales-tax hike that the City Council has said it would use to pay for police staffing, police and fire buildings, road repairs and traffic relief.

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors is set to formally vote Tuesday to put its own quarter-cent tax increase on the ballot countywide, in conjunction with an advisory measure asking voters if they agree that roads are a priority.

While both bodies have said they intend to use the money primarily for roads, the ballot measures are written as general sales tax increases, which need only a 50 percent plus one majority to pass.

A specific tax — locked in for spending only on a particular purpose — needs the more challenging two-thirds majority for approval.

Petaluma rocked the boat two weeks ago when it unanimously passed a “resolution of nonsupport” opposing the county sales tax measure, arguing, among other reasons, that it could damage voter support for Petaluma’s local tax increase.

City leaders also expressed discomfort with the idea that city voters are being asked to subsidize little-used county roads at the expense of regional traffic needs like Highway 101 through Petaluma.

The move of public nonsupport for another agency’s plans was unexpected for county leaders.

“It was a little surprising and also disappointing,” said Supervisor David Rabbitt, who represents the 2nd District, which includes Petaluma.

He said Petaluma leaders knew the county had been considering its own sales tax increase and knew the formula the county plans to use to disburse proceeds to each city if the county measure passes.

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