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Petaluma poll: 70% back extra sales tax for police, firefighting, roads


Petaluma City Councilman Mike Healy said Monday a poll he commissioned shows nearly 70 percent of likely city voters would support an extra half-cent sales tax for eight years to pay for such services as police, firefighting and street repairs.

He revealed his findings at Monday's City Council meeting, saying "hard and soft support" for a general tax was about 68 percent. A general tax — one with broadly defined focus — requires a simple majority to pass.

He called the numbers "the greenest of green lights" for the council to put a sales tax increase on the November ballot.

Healy arranged for the phone poll after the council last week decided to informally gauge public opinion about a tax increase.

But Mayor David Glass took issue with the way Healy's poll question was phrased, saying it was too specific in mentioning potholes, streetlights, drug and gang prevention and school resource officers.

A specific tax would need two-thirds approval by voters.

"That may not be the way we can phrase or shape the ballot measure," he said. "It may be a green light and it may be a &‘proceed with caution.' "

Glass said he also wants to know how a sales tax measure would affect voters' support for a parcel tax initiative on the ballot to fund parks improvements.

After last week's meeting, Healy asked the Petaluma Lodging Coalition and the Police Officers Association of Petaluma if they would fund a poll. The two groups covered the $2,000 cost.

Other council members and City Manager John Brown are conducting their own outreach and are to report back at the July 16 meeting. A ballot measure must be approved by Aug. 6 for the November election.

The polling, conducted Thursday evening, recorded the preferences of 1,216 likely Petaluma voters. Healy said the poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.2 percent.

Healy said 47 percent of those participating said they were "very supportive" of a tax whose proceeds would stay in the city and be audited annually. Twenty-one percent were "somewhat supportive."

Eleven percent said they were "not very supportive," 17 percent said they were "not at all supportive" and 5 percent had no opinion.

Among Democrats, 78 percent supported the tax, while 51 percent of Republicans did. Seventy-two percent of likely voters on Petaluma's west side backed the tax, while 65 percent of east-siders did.

Petaluma receives about $10 million annually from the state in sales tax revenue. Increasing the existing 8 percent sales tax rate by a half a percentage point would generate an additional $5 million a year. A quarter-cent increase would net about $2.5 million.

Most council members have said they would support placing a measure on the ballot but questioned how much of an increase voters might support, how long a potential tax should be in place and whether any tax would pass.

In June, Sonoma voters approved a five-year, half-cent sales tax increase by a wide margin.

Petaluma council members weren't convinced their voters would feel the same way but decided to seek public comments. All council members, except Mike Harris, expressed support for increasing the tax if the community favored the idea.

The city has cut its general fund spending from $48 million in 2008 to $32.5 million this year because of reduced revenues from sales tax and property taxes over the past four years.

Asked what they would fund with additional money, Petaluma department heads presented a "wish list" of $117 million worth of projects or positions, some one-time needs and some long-term commitments.

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com.