|Cotatiís voters to settle tax measure
Sales tax hike to be on ballot for June 3 special election
Now that its city council unanimously voted to place a sales tax-increase measure on the June ballot, things are likely to get quite interesting around Cotati the next few months. There’s nothing like a controversial or potentially divisive political issue to get Cotati’s civic juices flowing.
The Cotati City Council on Tuesday, having declared a fiscal state of emergency at its previous meeting, asked city voters to approve a tax measure that will raise the city’s sales tax by another half cent. Cotati voters in 2010 approved Measure A, a half-cent tax increase set to expire in 2015. This measure, should it be approved by voters in a special election on June 3, will sunset after nine years.
The city has made significant staff cuts, according to City Manager Dianne Thompson, but those cuts, coupled with revenues from Measure A, still haven’t been enough to pull the city out of the financial quicksand. The city has made cuts of 28 percent in staffing and 11 percent to its general fund.
Cotati’s financial situation, according to city staff, has been devastated by a crippling national recession and by Gov. Jerry Brown eliminating redevelopment agencies and taking those revenues to help with the state’s budget.
Revenues from a 1 percent increase could climb to $2 million, according to staff reports. The increase would raise the local sales tax rate from 8.75 percent to 9.25 percent. Cotati’s annual budget is around $5 million. One of the points city staff and members of the audience touched upon was the city’s ability (inability) to maintain a police force should this measure not pass. The threat of contracting out law enforcement duties to the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department is an option. Some in support of the tax increase specifically cited law enforcement as the primary reason.
“The Sheriff’s Department is so impersonal,” longtime resident Tony Adler said. “It’s not as efficient a department for a small town. You never know who the deputies are…they come and go.”
George Barich, one of the loudest and most persistent critics of the Cotati council, said raising taxes does nothing more than drive away business and keeps business from wanting to move into Cotati.
Eris Weaver, who at the last council meeting said she’d support an extension of the half-cent measure but was reluctant to support an increase, changed her mind and came out in support of the measure. She challenged Barich’s claim about business and taxes and then read a number of facts stated in the Public Finance Review and from the Public Policy Institute of California that disputed Barich.
“Business decision to locate are not greatly affected by local incentives,” Weaver read. “Retailers generally locate in relation to their customer base, transportation accessibility, suppliers and competitors. Response to sales tax rate differences depends on the general characteristics of the goods being purchased.”
Then, looking toward Barich, Weaver said, “Show me your data and I’ll show you mine.”
Brian Ling, executive director of business advocacy group Sonoma County Alliance, also is against higher taxes, but his approach to Cotati’s problem was pragmatic.
“Fundamentally I’m clearly against it (tax increase), but I don’t think you (the council) have a choice either,” Ling said. “This (tax measure) is not even a Band-Aid. It’s a little bit of medicine for probably a very serious disease. The previous councils kicked this down to 2014 to where we’re at today.”
Cotati resident Steven Gold is leaning against supporting the measure, but he left the door slightly ajar.
“I don’t feel the information is enough to convince me of the necessity,” Gold said. “So far, the evidence has not been convincing.”
A special election will cost between $10,000 and $13,600. Even though June 3 is a statewide primary election, it is considered a special election for the sole reason it is not an election in November in an even-numbered year.
• EVENING WITH THE MAYOR: Cotati Mayor John Dell’Osso will continue a tradition started by former Mayor Mark Landman and will conduct an “Evening With the Mayor” at the Redwood Café in downtown Cotati on Wednesday, March 5, from 6:30-7:30 p.m.
Like the meetings with Landman, this will be an informal session where those in the audience get to ask Dell’Osso about the state of the city.