Kenwood Press

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News: 08/15/2014

Road tax moved to March ballot

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors has agreed to ask voters to approve a quarter cent sales tax to deal with the sorry shape of county roads, but don’t look for it on the ballot in the November general election, which is already crowded with revenue measures.

Instead, the board, at its Aug. 12 meeting, pushed the tax to a March 3, 2015, special election, stating that, hopefully, the extra time will help convince the public to pass the measure.

The -cent tax measure would be in effect for 20 years, and generate approximately $20 million a year, representing a significant change in the amount of county funding available for taking care of the over 1,300 miles of roads.

Previous years of budgetary neglect, combined with reduced state and federal funds, has left hundreds of miles of the county road network in serious disrepair, and how to increase funding and what roads to prioritize has been a major focus of county officials the last few years.

A Long-Term Roads Plan was developed and approved earlier this summer, and at first the board, working with stakeholder groups, was planning to put a funding measure on the November ballot.

But at the board’s Aug. 5 meeting, supervisors Mark McGuire, David Rabbitt, and Efren Carrillo changed their minds. One reason for the shift was that there are eight other tax measures on the ballot – some countywide, some for specific cities – ranging from school bonds to utility taxes.

Rabbitt and McGuire, who were the lead supervisors developing the Long-Term Road Plan, also argued that there wasn’t enough time to put together a comprehensive outreach program to educate voters about the need for the road tax, and not enough time to pull together support from the cities, some of whose officials have openly worried that the road tax would hurt their own revenue measures at the ballot box.

“Doing it right and getting it passed is more important than putting it on the ballot, putting our fingers in the air and taking a chance,” said Rabbitt.

Supervisors Susan Gorin and Shirley Zane vociferously disagreed at that Aug. 5 meeting, arguing that it was essential to go to voters as soon as possible, and that moving the measure to a later special election meant it could be the only item on the ballot, thus costing the county up to $300,000 more than if it was on the November general election ballot.

At the end of the day, though, all the supervisors agreed to place the -cent tax measure on the March ballot, and were united in their pledge to work for voter approval.

“We need to really present a compelling argument to the community as to why it’s important to pass the -cent sales tax for roads,” said Gorin at the board’s Aug. 12 meeting, where a unanimous board gave its final OK.

As proposed, on the ballot would be a general tax measure which would require a simple majority to pass, as opposed to a special tax targeted specifically for roads, requiring 2/3 approval by the voters.

Accompanying the tax measure would be an advisory measure which specifies that the money would be used for “maintaining local streets and roads, filling potholes, supporting transit for students and others, and enhancing driver, pedestrian, bicyclist, and public safety…”

Tax revenue would be divided between the county and the nine cities, using a formula involving each jurisdiction’s population and number of road miles. For example, Sonoma County’s unincorporated areas would receive approximately 44 percent of the revenue, the city of Santa Rosa 27 percent, and the city of Sonoma two percent.

The Board of Supervisors has until late November to officially put something on the March 3, 2015, ballot. Gorin suggested that after the Nov. 4 general election and seeing the results of the other tax measures, the board should have another discussion about the proposed road measure.

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