A quarter-cent sales tax increase city officials say is critical to boost Santa Rosa’s budget and avoid layoffs appeared to be passing Tuesday night.
Measure O had 60 percent of the vote in early returns. It requires a simple majority to pass.
The measure would increase the city’s sales tax to 8.875 percent over the next six years, adding an estimated $9 million annually to the general fund.
“If this holds, I think that we need to thank the people of Santa Rosa for giving us a vote of confidence in what we’re doing in city government,” Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Coursey said. “Right now, we obviously have some serious challenges ahead of us. But it’s great to have the voters of Santa Rosa with us as we address those challenges.”
City officials said the sales tax hike would help post-fire recovery and support public safety, staffing and infrastructure. Even with the passage of the measure, Santa Rosa will still have to re-examine the way it operates, but the added revenue would create “breathing room,” Coursey said.
Faced with a structural deficit driven by increased government costs made worse by last year’s firestorm, the city council already is contemplating cutting 50 jobs, most of which are vacant. That move is part of an attempt to save $7.1 million, about half of a $14.9 million deficit expected next July. Extra revenue could prevent further cuts, Coursey said.
The Sonoma County Taxpayers’ Association opposed the measure. Executive Director Dan Drummond has been skeptical about whether the tax hike is as crucial as officials have presented it to be, and if the increase would actually be a temporary measure.
Adam Vogt, a 31-year-old electrician, said he planned to vote against the sales tax hike because the cost of living in the region is too high.
“It’s already incredibly expensive to live here,” he said as he waited to cast his ballot. “You can’t live here on a single income.”
Vanessa Brown, a buyer for outdoor clothing company Marmot, said she voted in favor of the measure.
“The money doesn’t exist anywhere else,” said Brown, 35. “I’m a fan of putting in a little bit in to help out where I can … it’s less than a penny.”