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Sonora Sales Tax Hike Discussed

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About 30 people showed up last night at the Sonora Opera Hall to hear about Measure I, the city´s upcoming ballot measure to increase the city´s sales tax by 1/2 percent.

The less-than-notable turnout at the forum could mean most of the registered voters in Sonora support putting more money into the city´s police, fire and public works departments, or it could mean they just don´t care one way or the other.

Voters decide this August, with a mail-in ballot, whether to increase the sales tax in Sonora by a half-percent.

Ty Wivell is the president of the Historic Sonora Chamber of Commerce, which sponsored last night´s forum, along with the group Citizens For A Safer Sonora. He says if passed, there´s no question about where the additional tax money will go: to the police, fire and public works departments.

Listening to city officials City Administrator Greg Applegate, Police Chief Mace McIntosh, and Public Works Director Ed Wyllie, those in the audience heard the plea that, without added funding, city services and emergency response will not be able to keep up with growth.

Kate Powell Segerstrom gave a presentation highlighting the needs. She said the public “need not be suspicious of this measure.” Much of the funding shortfall for keeping police officers on the street and potholes filled is due to a flip-flop in state funding.

According to data provided by the city, the police and fire departments are sorely understaffed and because of lower wages, have difficulty recruiting and retaining personnel.

Of the added 1/2 percent sales tax, 97 percent of each dollar – an estimated $1.2 million annually – would stay in Sonora and be funneled to the three departments. Applegate explained 60 percent of the money would be earmarked for police, 25 percent for the fire department, and 15 percent to public works.

Former Sonora Mayor Marlee Powell told the group “We´re (city officials are) not happy to do this, but we´re not the only ones up and down the state.” She says all cities are going to take big hits in funding from the state. At the same time, the state is syphoning more and more funding from city governments, Applegate said.

Sonora business owner David Evans spoke out last night during the forum.

Evans says he´s for the sales tax ballot measure, because crime in the area is changing and increasing and more police officers are needed on city streets.

If Measure I passes, it would put five more cops on the city´s streets.

Applegate explained the special mail-in ballot will be mailed to all registered voters within the incorporated city limits, about 1,600 persons, on August 2. The measure will need a 2/3 majority approval. Received ballots must be mailed back to the County elections office by August 31, 2004.

If the measure passes, the revised sales tax would go into effect January 1, 2005.