By JOSHUA WOLFSON
The Sonora City Council changed course on a sales tax increase, opting to explore funding public works in addition to public safety services.
For months, council members discussed using a sales tax increase to pay for staffing and equipment at the police and fire departments. But the idea to spend the potential tax revenues elsewhere surfaced for the first time Friday at a special meeting.
"Public works is just as important as police and fire," said Councilman David Sheppard.
After two hours of discussion, the council directed city officials to put together a plan for spreading the tax money between the police, fire and public works departments.
"I think police and fire are obviously in need of support, but roads are too," said Councilman Hank Russell.
Sonora officials say a sales tax increase is needed because of state raids on city dollars. The council cannot enact the tax itself, but can place a measure on the local ballot for voters to decide.
Council members were scheduled to decide on a series of details related to placing the tax measure on the ballot, including the size of the tax and voting date. Instead, they found themselves debating which city services required more funding.
"I'm a little surprised," said Mayor Marlee Powell. "I thought we had gone through this problem."
The change in direction came after the council learned that it could not pursue a general purpose tax which is more likely to pass because it only requires a simple majority if they want it on a ballot any time soon.
City Attorney Richard Matranga explained that the California Constitution requires a general tax measure be placed on the same ballot as a regularly scheduled City Council election. As a result, the council would have to wait until March 2006 next month's elections are already too close before voters decide on a general purpose tax.
"If we are looking at a general tax, there would clearly be a timing problem," Matranga said.