A time to reap or sow?
Ecclesiastes has it right: To everything there is a season, and a time for very purpose under heaven.
And if mere mortals can muddle out a purpose for the City of Sonoma at this budget-battered period of time, it may just be to ensure its own economic survival. On that much most people will agree. But the rest is not so clear, particularly the part about how our economic survival can best be ensured.
Is this a time to cast away stones, or is it a time to gather stones together?
Is it a time to rend or a time to sew? A time to break down or a time to build up?
Is it a time, in other words, for the city to bestow its blessing on a plan by our leading hoteliers to impose upon every innkeeper in town a 2 percent assessment to fund a tourism improvement district in order to better promote the tourist trade that, along with wine, is Sonoma's bread and butter?
Never mind the unfortunate acronym bestowed on the proposed assessment plan - STID - which vaguely suggests a sexually transmitted disease. The proposal for a self-governed Sonoma Tourism Improvement District carries with it - in the eyes of some small innkeepers and a majority of the City Counsel - a potentially toxic seed.
Which is to say that allowing the lodging industry to collect some $440,000 a year to buy more television and radio time, more print ads and more Internet marketing, as well as to finance more promotional events and attendance at more trade shows, is to deprive the city of an equivalent amount of money from a 2 percent increase in the TOT, a tax it would then be unable to collect.
With city revenues down some 12 percent and the state shutting off the flow of revenue from redevelopment agencies, the economic equation for local government budgets all across California is undergoing as seismic shift. Sonoma covers about $250,000 in city salaries from redevelopment bond money, and while there are options to continue the lives of redevelopment districts, doing so comes at a high - albeit still unclear - price.
So given the uncertainty over the full implications of the state budget, and the fact that legal challenges soon to be filed won't be resolved for months at best, this would appear not to be the season for surrendering a big chunk of future hotel tax to the proposed STID.
That was the majority decision of the City Council Wednesday night, and while there will no doubt be a continuing effort to find a formula that serves both the hotel industry and the city's bottom line, we think the council made the right decision for now.
As Councilmember Steve Barbose said, "The city is in a precarious financial condition ... I don't think we can afford to give up $440,000."
Meanwhile, however, the city knocked a promotional baseball out of the park on the Fourth of July with a parade, party and fireworks spectacular that drew visitors from all over the Bay Area and left tourists and locals alike marveling at this wonderful place we call home. Congratulations to everyone - the Community Center and the volunteer firefighters pre-eminently - for a profound hometown experience.