Measure proposes one-eighth cent sales tax
The Sonoma County Regional Parks Department is bringing back a measure that proposes an increase in sales tax, that would in turn allow more money to be funnelled into county and city parks.
Measure M, if approved on the Nov. 6 ballot, will be a one-eighth cent sales tax county-wide for a period of 10 years.
“As we see more and more use, we see more and more impact … our 51-year-old parks system is not getting any younger,” said Director of Parks and Recreation for the Sonoma County Parks Department Bert Whitaker.
The tax is expected to provide approximately $11.5 million dollars annually to the parks system. The money accrued will be put toward improving county and city parks.
If Measure M receives a two-thirds majority vote, 66.7 percent of the money received from the tax will be allocated to county parks, and 33.3 percent will go toward city parks. The potential funds distributed to cities will be based on population — with Santa Rosa potentially receiving the highest annual revenue at $2.025 million a year and Cotati receiving the lowest at $87,600 annually.
The county auditor’s fiscal statement for the measure estimates that should Measure M be voted in, Windsor would receive $318,400 annually, Healdsburg would receive $136,900, Cloverdale would receive $103,300 and Sebastopol would receive $88,400.
Of the 66.7 percent that would go toward county parks, the money is broken down into three expenditure groups for county regional parks, trails and open space preserves: 25 percent would go toward maintenance, safety and recreational service; 23.4 percent would go toward improving access; and 18.3 percent would go toward protecting natural resources.
“It’s public safety, access and natural resources,” said Whitaker. “For public safety, we’re talking about maintenance on our facilities. They’re 51, they’re not getting any newer and many of them are turning 25, 35 and 45-years-old. They were built with grant dollars and were not built to be long-term. Our playgrounds are old and our picnic areas aren’t meeting the needs (of people who use them). In the category of access, we’re talking about improving our existing trails. They’re not that sustainable, they require a good bit of maintenance. The final category, which is of critical importance to regional parks (is that) about two years ago we started a natural resources program … we see a bright future where this dollars could really invest in the responsible management of our 11,000 acres of land — these dollars are all about fuels management, enhancing our game with grazing.”
The measure was unanimously approved to be placed on the ballot by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors and has received support from members of the Cloverdale, Healdsburg, Windsor and Sebastopol city councils, as well as Russian Riverkeeper, Center for Climate Protection and Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, amongst others.
In 2016, the Sonoma County Parks Department proposed Measure J, which would have put forth a one-half cent sales tax to go toward the parks system. The measure needed 66.7 percent of the vote to pass and fell short at 65.3 percent.
Since then, the department has been furthering its community outreach. “We have been talking with all nine cities about parks needs. When January came around we decided to do a public survey poll. We wanted to just take a look and see what the public thought about regional parks,” Whitaker said.
“This encouraged us to do more work with the community — we were able to do some pretty aggressive mailings in March and April to further educate the community about the needs of the system, as well as get some feedback from the community about what they thought they wanted to see.”
Included in the feedback was the desire to protect wildlife areas as well as maintain and take care of existing facilities.
While there is no organized opposition to Measure M, the Sonoma County Taxpayers Association says taxes ought to wait.
According to Daniel Drummond, executive director of the taxpayers association, the problem that Measure J had is still present in Measure M: “Excess pension costs and the board of supervisors’ inability to rein in these costs has led to the steady march of sales tax measures paraded to the voters every election cycle.”
Drummond believes that, before voters agree to more tax increases, the board of supervisors should first consider pension reform.