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Ballot arguments released this week show unusual alliances on both sides of Measure Q, the proposed sales-tax increase known as the “Better Roads, Safer Petaluma” measure.

Arguing against the proposed 1-cent tax hike with no sunset date, two conservative anti-tax activists are teaming up with the two most liberal members of the City Council. The remaining three council members are supporting the measure, joined by the Petaluma Police Officers Association, which opposed a similar proposal two years ago.

“There are definitely some unusual configurations” in the arguments released Tuesday, Petaluma political consultant Brian Sobel said.

Arguing against the tax are Mayor David Glass and City Councilwoman Teresa Barrett, which is no surprise. They’ve expressed concerns about the tax for weeks.

But in an unusual alliance, former Councilman Bryant Moynihan — a longtime tax opponent and vocal critic of the way the city spends its money — is on the same side as Glass and Barrett. Joining them is Dan Drummond of the Sonoma County Taxpayers Association.

A more common scenario is Moynihan railing against the Glass-led council’s financial decisions, from annual audits to pension liabilities to sewer-fund spending.

“Clearly there are different reasons for their opposition,” Sobel said of the opponents.

On Nov. 4, Petaluma voters will be asked whether they are willing to increase the city’s local tax rate by 1 cent for every dollar spent. That amounts to $1 on every $100 purchase or $300 on a $30,000 purchase.

Proponents, led by City Council members Mike Healy, Gabe Kearney and Kathy Miller, argue the city needs the estimated $10 million annual revenue the tax could provide to fund “street and sidewalk improvements throughout town and accelerate construction of the Rainier connector and interchange — finally easing the traffic crunch.”

They argue that if it passes, citizens will see dramatic improvements in service and in quality of life.

“Our streets and traffic are among the worst in the Bay Area,” their argument reads. “Sacramento funding raids and the Great Recession have delayed needed repairs.”

Citizens listed street repairs and traffic congestion as their most important issues in city polling conducted to determine what residents might be willing to tax themselves to pay for.

The money also could be used to replace police officers lost during budget cutbacks, replace aging police and fire vehicles and build new public safety buildings — all of which citizens didn’t cite as top priorities, but city leaders did.

Arguments against the “Better Roads, Safer Petaluma” measure say it is “deceptively titled” and could be used to fund pensions and “personnel perks” rather than what residents want.

“Those words are just the empty promises of proponents who want to lull you into believing this tax will pay for road repairs and police officers,” Glass and other opponents wrote.

Drummond has argued that Petaluma shouldn’t ask its citizens to tax themselves until the city solves its pension debts, a problem many public agencies are facing. Drummond didn’t return a call Tuesday seeking comment.

Petaluma’s unfunded pension liability is nearly $48 million, Finance Director Bill Mushallo said Tuesday. That amount is the difference between the city’s current assets and projected payments to retirees.

The anti-Measure Q argument says Petaluma has refused to “deal with it … while other Sonoma County cities are starting to face the problem head-on.”

Healy said that’s not true.

In 2012, the city instituted a two-tier retirement system, which lowers pension amounts and increases retirement ages of new employees. But those savings are modest and potentially decades away.

“I don’t know of any city that’s done more than we have,” Healy said, adding that more significant savings could be achieved only if state law is changed to allow reducing future pensions of current public employees.

Barrett and Glass said they could support only a special tax, which would be earmarked for a specific purpose.

That would have required a two-thirds approval, which polling suggested wasn’t likely.

Revenues from general taxes such as Measure Q go into the city’s general fund and can be spent at the council’s discretion. The measure needs a simple majority to pass.

The proponents’ ballot argument says all Measure Q proceeds would be clearly identified and spent on community necessities. Quarterly reports would be published and a citizen oversight committee would be appointed “to protect taxpayer funds,” their argument states.

Trust was a key issue in 2012, when the council last discussed placing a tax hike on the ballot.

The idea died when the city’s largest employee unions, led by police and fire, said they would oppose it. The police union’s president at the time said they couldn’t trust that the council as constituted would spend the money “for what the public intended.”

Garrett Glaviano, current president of the Police Officers Association of Petaluma, didn’t return a call Tuesday seeking comment on the change.

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

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