Supes kick road tax down the road

The proposed one-quarter-cent sales-tax hike to improve the county’s roads won’t be on the November ballot after all. Instead, the measure is probably headed to a March 3, 2015, special election.

At Tuesday’s board of supervisors meeting, Supervisors David Rabbit and Mike McGuire, who comprised an ad hoc road committee, surprised even their fellow supervisors when they suggested postponing the road tax vote until November 2015. At the meeting, the supervisors were supposed to approve language to put the measure on the ballot this November.

“I was blindsided,” said 1st District Supervisor Susan Gorin. “And Supervisor (Shirley) Zane was too.”

“I expected us to ratify the final wording for the November ballot,” she added.

But McGuire and Rabbit were concerned about all the competing tax measures that will be on the November ballot.

“I tried to argue that we’d be successful,” Gorin said. “But I wasn’t getting three votes.”

The proposed road tax would raise an estimated $20 million a year. But the county would share the proceeds with cities the way it shares Proposition M money, with the cities receiving 56 percent of the funding. That would leave the county with about $8.7 million a year for its $40 million a year road package.

To reach the $40 million a year road investment, in addition to the $8.7 million the tax would raise, the county would use $5.4 million in general fund revenues, $12 million in state gas tax and $2 million from other sources for road maintenance; $8 million in general fund money, $2.2 million in franchise fees and $1.8 million in federal funding for pavement preservation.

“My goal has been to complete the Highway 12 project and work on roads in the First District,” Gorin said. “Roads seem to be the overriding concern throughout the district.”

Some of the main roads leading to Sonoma and Santa Rosa are in decent shape, but Gorin said it’s time to look at the arterials, the connectors and the neighborhoods.

One of the concerns with holding the election in November was the lack of time to bring together the private sector to pay for a campaign.

“We just didn’t have the funds from the private sector,” Gorin said.

Gorin wasn’t the only person frustrated that the tax had been pushed back to March.

Craig Harrison, one of the founders of SOSroads, said he too was disappointed. “But it’s not as bad as it could have been,” he said. “This isn’t our first choice. But at least all the supervisors want to solve it.”

Harrison agreed there might be voter burnout with all the tax measures on the ballot – and he mentioned that Santa Rosa Junior College has a huge bond measure on the ballot as well.

“Supervisors Zane and Gorin practically threw themselves in front of the train,” he said.

And he wondered how long the supervisors will talk about the tax measure before they do something about it.

Harrison said if there’s an upside to pushing the measure back to March, it will give advocates time to put together a good campaign.

“We need to run a good campaign and have at least one public forum in each district,” he added. But he’s also concerned that a delay will find other governmental entities wanting a piece of the pie.

Another downside of pushing the election back to March is the cost. If the measure were on the November ballot, it would cost the county about $250,000, but a special election in March could cost $600,000.

Gorin said advocates would have to work harder to get the vote out in March. “We really have to work hard on the yesses,” she said.