Measure J – sales tax increase – makes sense
If you live in the City of Sonoma, the most important decision you will face on the June 5 ballot may well be Measure J, the half-percent sales tax increase that will raise the city’s current rate from 8 percent to 8.5. That increase would add one cent to a $2 cup of coffee, three-and-a-half cents to a $7 sandwich and seven-and-a-half cents to a $15 bottle of wine.
If you’re buying a $1,000 sofa, you’ll pay an extra $5.
And if you decide to buy a $30,000 pick-up truck, you’ll pay an extra $150.
You won’t pay a penny more on groceries and the new tax rate will be the same as the rate in Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Cotati and Novato.
The rate in Healdsburg, Cloverdale and Petaluma is 8 percent and in Sebastopol it’s 8.25 percent. Among nearby cities, Napa has the lowest rate at 7.75 percent.
The highest rate in the state, last time we looked, was Santa Monica, at 9.25 percent. The rate in San Francisco is 8.5 percent.
So, an 8.5 percent sales tax is not out of line with comparable cities and should have no measurable impact on commerce in Sonoma. What it will have an impact on is the city’s general fund, which is facing a deficit ranging from $1.2 to 1.7 million thanks to the state’s sudden, ill-planned and chaotic dissolution of redevelopment districts.
The sales tax increase will produce an estimated $1 million each year for five years. Then it will end. That money will come from visitors and residents alike, and because Sonoma is such a popular tourist destination, estimates are that visitors will contribute at least half of the $1 million collected.
That is money the state can not touch, it is money that will help preserve our streets, pay for police and fire protection, maintain the Plaza and support the homeless shelter. And it will buy the city time to develop more long-range revenue development options, and for the chaos of the redevelopment debacle to subside so that the city can have access to reliable income estimates. That hasn’t been possible while the state Department of Finance plays ping pong with enforceable obligation payment schedules that will ultimately determine how much former redevelopment money will return to local governments.
It has been suggested by Measure J’s few critics that the city has not explored further spending cuts or alternative revenue sources. That charge is preposterous. As we have frequently reported in these pages, the city has navigated the recession in a fiscally responsible manner that is above reproach. City employees have accepted a salary freeze, unfilled positions remain empty and city staff have taken on progressively heavier workloads, as the expense side of city government has been cut more than 12 percent.
Further cuts will inevitably result in a reduction of services, and when fire and police costs account for 74 percent of all General Fund expenses, it’s not hard to predict where future cuts will have to fall.
We think Measure J makes sound fiscal and social sense and we strongly support its passage.