Sonoma County voters this November may be asked to approve a quarter-cent sales tax to repair much of the county’s ailing road network.
The proposed tax would raise an estimated $537 million over 20 years, or about $20 million annually, with the proceeds divided between the county and its nine cities through a formula weighing population and the number of road miles in each jurisdiction.
The move is primarily driven by the county, which has faced a political firestorm at least since 2010 over the degrading condition of its road network, consistently rated among the worst in the Bay Area. County officials say they don’t have the money needed to fix the problem as quickly as the public demands.
“We can continue with the status quo, which is slow and steady,” said Board Chairman David Rabbitt. “Or we can bump it up, accelerate it, and get the road network into good condition and keep it there.”
The Board of Supervisors is set to decide whether to place the measure on the ballot at its July 29 meeting.
The tax measure would be the long-sought puzzle piece to shore up the county’s beleaguered road network, which has suffered under dwindling or flat funding levels for years.
Last month, supervisors approved a long-term plan that would address the issue by committing $200 million over the next decade to improving more than half of the 1,370-mile county-controlled road system. The plan lacked details on a funding source but mentioned a sales tax as one option.
The draft ballot proposal was released this week in an agenda packet for the Sonoma County Transportation Authority, which could administer the new sales tax program if it advances to the November ballot and passes. It would need a two-thirds majority for approval.
Sonoma County already has two quarter-cent sales tax measures for transportation infrastructure — Measure M for highway improvements, commuter rail and local road projects, and Measure Q for commuter rail — as well as a quarter-cent sales tax to fund open space preservation. On top of those countywide taxes, cities have their own sales tax measures.
The Sonoma County Taxpayers’ Association has not taken a formal position ahead of the Aug. 8 deadline to place a measure on the November ballot. Members of the group say they will back a sales tax for roads if the county agrees to certain conditions, including a commitment from the county to continue to rein in pension costs tied to county employees.
“There are circumstances that we could consider supporting a road tax,” said Jack Atkin, president of the group. “Our view is that no matter what the county or cities say taxes are for — parks or roads — they’re really for pensions.”
The tax money should be dedicated for roads funding, Atkin said.
The draft proposal says the 20-year sales tax measure would be used to “maintain, resurface and pave local streets and roads; fill potholes; improve traffic flow and mobility; and enhance safety.” It would require an audit to ensure the funds are being spent as mandated and would allow officials to issue bonds to finance road work.
Advocates for more road funding were happy to hear that the sales tax measure was moving forward, but encouraged the county to continue to fund road maintenance and not count on a sales tax as the only revenue source.