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Road Tax

Jack Balshaw 5/15/02

It looks as if we're going to have the opportunity to vote on assessing ourselves for a parcel tax to pay for fixing some major streets in town. I'll start off stating I'm in favor of the proposed $40 parcel tax. $40 a year is less than 11 cents a day. We can easily afford that and even more. It would be nice if we also had the opportunity to have some say at the polls on how itthe money will be spent if the assessment passes. There is a tendency in the public sector (once the money is in their hands) to consider it theirs to do with as they wish. In this instance, my concern is that the idealists on the council will want to divert some of these street repair funds for other purposes. Landscaping, traffic circles and bike lanes are the current favorite places to spend extra money. If our streets are sooo bad that this parcel tax will only provide a minor portion of the money needed to repair all the streets in Petaluma, there should be a statement in the tax proposal itself preventing these funds from being spent for anything other than repairs between existing curbs.

There also needs to be assurance that only a limited portion of this money will be diverted to pay City Hall and Public Works overhead. The staff report for the parcel tax indicates as much as 54% could go to design, inspection, administration and overhead. This is too much, especially for what is only major repair work

Knowing how much money this tax will bring in annually, the council should also be able to tell us almost exactly which streets will be fixed and when they will be fixed. This is how the city of Novato assures its taxpayers that it will spend their money in a focused manner.

Better still, Novato's tax is only authorized for a five-year period. After that period, their council has to return to the voters and ask for reapproval of the tax. There is no reason for Petaluma to request a period longer than that (5 years) for any parcel tax. With a five-year renewal required, the City Council becomes responsible for visible progress in fixing the streets. If there were a 20-year approval of the tax, the money would keep rolling in for ten election periods without future councils having to demonstrate responsibility.

Additionally, once the worst streets are repaired, there will be a greater tendency for the council to try to use some of the money for other things. It is extremely important that there is wording in the parcel tax legislation to prevent this.

This is a tax that needs to be passed. The streets do need repair. But, that is no reason to give city government a blank check to use the money from the tax in anything but the most efficient and effective mannerfor the purpose intended.

This will only be a down payment on the amount of money need. It's anticipated that next year the council will ask that a quarter cent sales tax be approved to increase the rate at which streets can be rebuilt. I find it appropriate and ironic that approximately one third of any funds from a sales tax increase would come from the auto dealers. This would be one instance in which vehicles would directly make a major contribution towards keeping streets in repair.

This might seem like delicious revenge by those who don't like autos. It should be noted however that about $3.5million a year in sales tax presently comes from auto sales. If the sales tax on autos had been used over the years for street repairs we would have had the best streets in the region instead of the worst.

The auto does pay its own way.


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