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Supervisors postpone road tax measure to June

Sonoma County supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to delay until June 2015 a proposed quarter-cent sales tax measure to fund maintenance and repairs on the county’s crumbling 1,382-mile road network.

They also agreed to shorten the measure’s 20-year life to five years.

The move came after county officials, citing public distrust of government spending, said they needed additional time to educate voters about the county’s long-term roads plan and establish support for the tax increase. It was originally set for a March special election after the Board of Supervisors this summer passed on its chance to place the measure on the November ballot.

A half-dozen people spoke in favor of the county’s new approach, including the shorter five-year lifespan for the tax measure.

“The public needs this short leash for accountability,” said John Bly, executive vice president of the Northern California Engineering Contractors Association.

Officials said the cost for the special election next summer would range from $400,000 to $600,000. Public outreach for community meetings and brochures is expected to cost an additional $60,000.

If approved, the sales tax measure would generate $20 million per year, shared between the county and its nine cities. The county’s portion would be $8.7 million per year. The county has pegged its road maintenance backlog at $268 million.

Supervisors on Tuesday agreed to retain 10 percent of the measure’s tax revenue for public transit if it passes. The board scrapped plans for an advisory measure that was to accompany the tax proposal, stating voters’ preference that the revenue go to roads.

Chairman David Rabbitt said the advisory measure was likely to cause confusion among voters. If the general sales tax measure is approved by a simple majority, the Sonoma County Transportation Authority would be brought on to ensure that the revenue raised is spent on roads.

Supervisor Mike McGuire said community meetings would help clear up any confusion. “We’re finally advancing a long-term road plan rather than a year-by-year approach,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer ?Angela Hart at 526-8503 or angela.hart@pressdemocrat.com. ?On Twitter @ahartreports.

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