Friday, July 22, 2016

[Sonoma] County considers tax for November ballot

Blog note: this article references a recent grand jury report.
As the city of Petaluma considers asking voters to approve a sales tax measure this fall, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors is also weighing several tax proposals that could make it to an increasingly crowded November ballot.
The board last month considered a measure to increase the countywide hotel tax to pay for general services including affordable housing and county road repairs. The supervisors also discussed a sales tax increase for Sonoma County Regional Parks.
Advocates for early childhood education urged the board to seek a sales tax increase specifically for universal preschool, while the Sonoma County Library Commission is likely to pursue an eighth-cent countywide sales tax increase after a similar measure failed in 2014.
Leaders have until the beginning of August to place a measure on the November ballot.
Supervisor David Rabbitt, whose district includes Petaluma, said he isn’t sure any of the tax proposals would pass this year. An increase to the county hotel tax would be the most palatable of the group, since it would be borne mostly by outside visitors. But, he said, the county should be cautious about asking voters for a sales tax increase, especially after Measure A, a countywide general sales tax increase billed as a way to fix roads, was defeated at the ballot box last June.
“I’m not in favor of moving forward on any of these sales taxes,” he said. “I’m skeptical of most of these measures.”
The universal preschool measure will likely be postponed until 2018, Rabbitt said. Of the others, he said it is hard to gauge public opinion since polling has become less accurate.
Rabbitt pointed to polling done in the run up to the Measure A vote, which showed the measure barely passing. It was defeated with a 61 percent “no” vote.
“With Measure A, the polling was so far off, and we failed miserably,” he said. “The climate (for tax measures) is tough out there right now.”
Approval by at least three of the five supervisors is needed to place a measure on the ballot. At a board meeting last month, supervisors indicated there was support for some type of tax measure moving forward.
“We have prioritized funding for roads, for homelessness and other important services, yet there is still a list of unmet needs and board priorities that we believe the public expects us to address,” said Supervisor Efren Carrillo, the board chairman.
With other tax measures on the table, Rabbitt said he did not think it was the time to pursue a specific tax for road repair. Specific taxes require two-thirds approval from voters.
The county’s tax discussions come as the Sonoma County Civil Grand Jury last week issued its annual report in which it probed the county’s road funding challenge and recommended an additional revenue source for road repair.
The grand jury found that, despite increased funding for roads in the past three years, the county is still short of the minimum of $20 million per year needed to prevent pavement conditions from deteriorating further.
“The Board of Supervisors should explore all reasonable avenues to increase funding for paving county roads, including a special tax measure,” the grand jury said in its report, noting that there did not appear to be any untapped source of discretionary funding that the county could access.
July 12, 2016
Petaluma Argus Courier
By Matt Brown

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