The city has agreed to give a citizens’ group that wants to place a parcel tax initiative on the November ballot another month to collect signatures.
Petaluma Friends of Recreation, or PFOR, is pushing for a new parcel tax that would channel money to local parks, playgrounds, baseball fields and other recreational facilities through an annual tax on property owners, ranging from $52 to $400. Seniors and low-income property owners could apply for an exemption, although it would not automatically be given to them.
And even though renters would not have to pay the tax, they too could be impacted if landlords choose to pass on the costs by increasing rent.
The group has so far collected only half of the needed 4,600 signatures, so the city’s decision to give them until June 17 is a big boost to the effort.
PFOR is made up of former parks and rec board members and residents whose children play soccer, baseball and other sports and was formed in response to continued budget cuts that have left the city with little money for maintaining city buildings, running summer camps, building new trails, playgrounds and ball fields.
“We realized that there was no money even in the good times,” said Andy Eber, one of the founders of the Friends of Petaluma Recreation who, along with his wife Carol, served on the city’s aquatics board for 10 years.
If voters pass the initiative, sites like the Petaluma Community Center, Meadowview, Arroyo, Miwok, McNear and Prince parks and the city’s two public pools would get upgrades as well as the long-shuttered Polly Klaas Performing Arts Center on Western Avenue.
To make sure funds are protected, the group plans to set up an oversight committee made up of residents and business owners that would not include any city employee or member of city boards.
“The whole idea is to have some arms length from the city and have full transparency,” Eber said, adding that the city would set up a special restricted account and audit the funds coming in on an annual basis.
The cost to the city would be about $8,000, largely from reviewing and preparing the proposed measure.
On Monday, the council voted 6-0 to accept an impact report that will grant the group more time, although Mayor Dave Glass said they faced an “uphill battle” in getting the initiative passed. But, he conceded, “it’s the best chance this town has to get the facilities people care about.”