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Special council meeting on sales tax Thursday


The Petaluma police union has come out against a proposed sales tax increase the City Council may place on the November ballot.

The council is divided on whether to ask voters to increase the current 8 percent tax by either a quarter- or a half-percent — or whether to seek an increase at all.

Mayor David Glass and Council members Teresa Barrett and Mike Harris said they opposed seeking any increase in the sales tax in November. Chris Albertson, Mike Healy and Tiffany Renee favored an increase, likely a half-cent hike that would raise $5 million annually for general city services.

Gabe Kearney said he personally supported an increase but doubted it would get voter approval.

The council was set to meet Aug. 6 to make a final decision after receiving more public input. But late Wednesday, the city called a special meeting for 5:15 p.m. Thursday to discuss the issue.

City attorneys were researching whether calling for a sales-tax increase ballot measure requires a supermajority vote of the council, or five of seven members. If so, the issue may die before seeing a ballot box.

Meanwhile, even a simple majority vote seemed to be increasingly unlikely, given the police opposition. Kearney on Wednesday said he was leaning against voting for a tax increase.

"I have a hard time wrapping my hands around us being able to pass it, so how can I vote for something I don't have faith will pass?" he said. "How will I vote for something that will cost us $30,000 to (put on the ballot), knowing it's probably not going to pass?

"But, believe me, I desperately think we need this. There's definitely the need there. People just don't want to pay."

Paul Gilman, president of the Police Officers Association of Petaluma, said his union, which represents about 80 members, believes "the citizens of Petaluma should say where and how their money is spent."

The proceeds of a general purpose tax, requiring a simple majority of voter approval, would go into the city's general fund, the budget that pays for most city salaries, benefits and services. It could be spent for any purpose the council decides.

Funds from a special tax would be earmarked for specific purposes. A special tax requires a two-thirds majority to pass, considered a high bar.

"These are tough times and we cannot endorse asking the public for additional funding without a cohesive and well-established plan to ensure that any new funding is used for what the public intended," Gilman said in a written statement. "We do not believe that we can give the public those assurances in the short amount of time the city would have to bring a funding measure to the ballot."

The city needs to invest in public safety, he said, but also infrastructure like street repairs.

Councilman Mike Healy acknowledged Wednesday without the active support of public safety personnel, who make up a large portion of the city workforce, it would be difficult for a tax measure to succeed.