Five Petaluma City Council members will urge voters to pass a permanent 1-cent sales tax increase on the November ballot, arguing that its estimated $10 million annual income is needed for improved roads, new police officers and new public buildings.
The names of Mike Healy, Kathy Miller, Gabe Kearney, Chris Albertson and Mike Harris will appear on the ballot in favor of the vote on two separate statements. The remaining members, David Glass and Teresa Barrett, voted against placing the measure before voters and won’t appear on the ballot arguments.
On Monday night, the council formally voted to place the tax hike on the ballot. Healy, an attorney, volunteered to be the lead author on the main ballot argument, with Miller and Kearney. Albertson and Harris will join him in writing a rebuttal if an opposing argument is submitted.
The proposed tax increase, which would amount to an additional $1 on a $100 purchase or $300 on a $30,000 buy, would make Petaluma’s local sales tax rate 9.25 percent, the highest in the county along with Cotati.
Petaluma’s measure needs a simple majority to pass and it would have no end date.
The money would go into the general fund budget, which pays for most city services, employee salaries and health and retirement benefits. It can be spent at the council’s will.
To address voters’ potential reluctance to allow unrestricted spending by a City Council whose makeup could change every two years, the council said it will budget the tax revenues separately, Healy said. An oversight committee of volunteers would be appointed.
Barrett and Glass voted against putting the issue on the ballot, arguing that voters should be able to decide if they specifically want at least part of the tax proceeds dedicated to the long-planned but unfunded Rainier Avenue cross-town connector.
A special tax — legally required to be spent on a particular target, like parks or roads or a specific project — would have required a two-thirds majority to pass. The last special taxes two were rejected by Petaluma voters.
City commissioned polling showed a majority of potential voters would support a sales tax increase of up to 1 percent, but not by two-thirds.
Two citizens raised concerns Monday night about the tax, both of whom were skeptical that the current City Council could guarantee the proceeds would pay for road improvements and not be used elsewhere in the future.
It remains to be seen how a countywide sales tax increase of a quarter-cent — tentatively approved for the ballot by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors last week — will affect Petaluma voters come Election Day.
Petaluma council members unanimously urged the supervisors not to place what they consider a competing ballot measure before voters on the same ballot.