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Sonoma County supervisors on Tuesday will consider adding a sales-tax hike to other tax measures already planned for the November ballot, but they are already facing resistance from the county’s two largest cities, Santa Rosa and Petaluma.

Petaluma City Council members unanimously passed a “resolution of nonsupport” for a possible quarter-cent sales tax increase countywide, saying it would undermine support for Petaluma’s one-cent tax hike already slated for the Nov. 4 vote.

City leaders also said the amount Petaluma would receive from a county measure wasn’t equitable and wasn’t enough to pay for one of the region’s most pressing needs — the completed widening of Highway 101.

While Santa Rosa hasn’t gone that far, its council sent a letter to county supervisors “encouraging the county to include flexibility” for cities to use potential county-tax proceeds for transit or auto-alternatives, not just roadwork as it’s worded, Councilwoman Erin Carlstrom said.

In its rare “nonsupport” resolution, Petaluma offered several arguments against a proposed countywide tax, including that it amounts to city dwellers subsidizing little-used county roads at the expense of widely used thoroughfares used in the population centers.

“It’s not sufficient, what’s offered to us, to take care of our roadwork needs,” Petaluma City Manager John Brown said. “It confuses the issue as to whose measure is going to get work done and whose isn’t. It also stacks measures on top of each other.”

In addition, Brown said, Petaluma’s polling shows significant opposition by local voters to a countywide tax measure if it’s on the same ballot as a city tax. Only 8.8 percent of Petaluma’s poll respondents said they would support a county roads tax with Petaluma’s also on the ballot.

County supervisors are scheduled to take up the sales-tax issue Tuesday morning, followed shortly thereafter by discussion about a possible library tax of an eighth of a cent.

Supervisors will decide among several options before them, including a quarter -cent general sales tax that could be spent on voter-identified priorities, a quarter -cent special tax that would be earmarked for roads or tabling the entire issue for another time.

Fourth District Supervisor Mike McGuire said county polling has shown about 69 percent support for either tax. A general tax with no restrictions on how it’s spent needs a simple majority; a special tax dedicated to roads would need two-thirds’ approval.

“Rather than make a prediction (on which way the board will vote), on Tuesday, we should have a robust discussion on either moving forward now or working with community groups, neighbors and stakeholders to tackle this legacy issue,” he said.

He said the county has already pumped $80 million into county road repairs but is still many times that behind in maintenance and improvements. He believes a county tax could pass.

The county’s proposal estimates that it would bring in $20 million in its first year and $537 million over a 20-year span.

“Over the last 24 months, $80 million has been invested in county roads, bridges, sidewalks, culverts and ditches,” he said. “What we know is, even after record levels of investment, there is still significant need.

“Sonoma County voters are extremely intelligent,” he said. “I’m confident they’ll take the time to review each measure and make an informed choice.”

He didn’t characterize Petaluma’s lack of support as detrimental to a county tax.

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“I respect the city’s decision. But at the county level we need to remain focused on the needs of all residents. And we already know, even after over $80 million of investment, there is still significant needs to improve our county roads.”

If the supervisors vote to place a sales tax increase on the ballot, it will join several others, potentially overwhelming voters and causing knee-jerk “no” votes, some city leaders have said.

Several tax measures are planned or contemplated for the November ballot. Jurisdictions have until the first week of August to finalize election plans.

In addition to Petaluma’s sales tax increase, Santa Rosa and Sebastopol voters could be asked to expand their cities’ utility taxes and Sebastopol will ask voters to increase its sales tax. Cloverdale has already approved a utility tax hike for the ballot.

County voters also will be asked to support a $410 million Santa Rosa Junior College bond measure for facility and technology upgrades. Santa Rosa City Schools officials are asking for approval on separate bond measures totaling $229 million to upgrade facilities and equipment.

If approved, the school bonds would add several hundred dollars to property-tax bills.

In June, voters passed all five school bond measures before them, and Cotati voters approved a sales-tax increase to 9.25 percent, the highest in the county.

“Not only do we risk overwhelming people with the tax measures on the ballot,” Carlstrom said, “we also will be very close to bumping up to the local (tax) limit.”

The state limits how much local jurisdictions can add onto the state minimum sales tax rate of 7.5 percent. Sonoma County’s top allowable tax rate is 9.5 percent. With Cotati increasing its local rate to 9.25 percent in June, that leaves only a quarter-percent available for future needs.

Petaluma Mayor David Glass said he can’t support the county ballot measure because of that.

“If the county goes forward with a measure that doesn’t include 101, this is essentially the last available space in the cap,” he said.

“If this measure were to pass … we’ll then be at the cap and anything from that point forward would have to be funded with some kind of other tax.”

Both Santa Rosa and Petaluma leaders also expressed discomfort with the county’s proposed distribution method if it were to have a successful quarter-cent tax increase targeted for road repairs.

Santa Rosa, the largest population and sales-tax base, would generate about 33 percent of the tax but receive about 27 of the proceeds in return.

Petaluma would generate about 14 percent of the taxes, but receive 9.5 percent back.

Carlstrom said for what Santa Rosa would generate versus how much it would get back — and how its use could be restricted — the city might want to go another direction.

“We may be better served having our own tax,” she said.

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

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