Why did Sonoma County place a parks measure on the ballot?
Sonoma County Regional Parks has built one of the most diverse park systems in California. Fifty-six parks, trails and beaches attract 5 million annual visits to the Sonoma Coast, Russian River, Sonoma Valley and the county’s other unique landscapes. Park attendance has increased 38 percent since 2010 and parkland has increased by 6,000 acres (96 percent).
But funding has not kept pace with this growth. Measure M on the November 2018 ballot was needed to provide additional funding so regional parks and city parks can address significant unmet needs and preserve the diversity and integrity of their park systems for future generations.
What are the needs?
The funding needs of Sonoma County’s parks are substantial. They include increasing costs to operate and maintain parks, protect natural resources, reduce wildfire risk, and open new parks to the public. Regional and city parks also struggle to meet growing demand for recreation, health, safety and education programs, including for our aging population. All of these needs affect our parks systems’ abilities to deliver quality services to Sonoma County residents.
What was the ballot measure?
Voters in Sonoma County were asked in the Nov. 6, 2018 general election to consider Measure M, a one-eighth cent sales tax (0.125%) to support Sonoma County's regional parks system as well as city parks for 10 years. The tax applies to all areas in Sonoma County and will generate an estimated $11.5 million annually for improving and maintaining parks. The measure was approved by 72.6 percent of county voters.
How much will the tax cost?
At 0.125%, the tax will add 3 cents to a $25 purchase and 12 cents to a $100 purchase.
How will the measure help Sonoma County Regional Parks?
Two-thirds of the funds collected will be spent on Sonoma County Regional Parks, enabling the department to:
- Maintain parks, trails & open spaces
- Help protect water quality
- Reduce risk of future wildfires
- Protect wildlife habitats & fisheries
- Improve access for the underserved
- Support neighborhood parks & recreation
How will the measure benefit city parks?
One-third of all the money will be shared by Sonoma County’s cities to maintain and improve local parks. Each city will determine how best to prioritize its funding projects. Each city has diverse needs, as Regional Parks managers learned through countywide outreach it began in 2015.
How will Measure M support make our parks safer?
Funds will be used to maintain parks and trails, restore parks impacted by fires, reduce wildfire fuels, address invasive plants, improve signs and maps for visitors, modernize facilities, including restrooms, and maintain sports fields and recreation areas – all of which help make our parks safer.
How can we be sure the tax revenue will be spent on parks?
A citizens oversight committee will be appointed to regularly review how the revenue is spent and to ensure public transparency throughout the measure's 10-year life. The measure also requires that revenue not be used to reduce existing funding for parks and recreation.
Will the sales tax apply to all areas of Sonoma County?
Yes, all jurisdictions within Sonoma County, including every city and unincorporated area, will see tax collected. The funds will be split among the Sonoma County Regional Parks system and the city parks. Two-thirds of the funds will go to the Regional Parks and one-third to city parks.
How will the funds be spent from the tax revenue?
The measure’s expenditure plan designates revenue for specific needs within four categories. Each category will receive a percentage of the proposed sales tax revenues:
- Support for local parks, recreation needs and fire risk reduction – 33.3 percent, estimated at $38.3 million
- Protect water quality, wildlife habitat and natural resources in Sonoma County's regional parks, trails and open space preserves – 18.3 percent, estimated at $21.1 million
- Investing in maintenance, safety and recreation services in Sonoma County's regional parks, trails and open space preserves – 25 percent, estimated at $28.7 million
- Improve access to Sonoma County's regional parks, trails and open space preserves- 23.4 percent, estimated at $26.8 million
Will the parks ballot measure increase or affect the county’s pension liability?
No, the pension liability for current Sonoma County employees and retirees is unrelated to this measure and is based on preexisting assumptions about investment returns and future health care costs. Passing such a measure does not affect the current pension liability. Any new employee hired due to this measure, or for any other reason, will be hired under the county’s current pension plan with more conservative benefits.
Who will pay the tax?
Anyone who buys a taxable good in Sonoma County will contribute to the tax revenue, regardless of where they live, including tourists and day visitors. Many taxable purchases are discretionary, according to county tax data, with the greatest taxable spending on wine, gas station purchases, and restaurant meals.
Will there be independent oversight of the funds raised?
Yes, the measure’s legal language establishes a citizens oversight committee to provide transparency and ensure fiscal accountability. The committee will review the receipt and expenditures of revenue generated by the parks measure and will do so in conjunction with Sonoma County’s budget process. The committee will produce annual reports and present them to the Board of Supervisors at public meetings. The committee can make budget recommendations to the Board of Supervisors and city councils regarding expenditures from the parks measure. All written committee reports will be public records.
When did voters last consider a Sonoma County parks measure?
Voters in Sonoma County’s unincorporated areas in 2016 narrowly missed (65.1 percent voted yes) passing Measure J, which was a one-half cent (0.5 percent) sales tax in unincorporated areas only. Measure M is the first tax measure dedicated to our county’s park maintenance and recreation needs as well as to park water quality and the need to reduce fire risks.
Didn’t we just approve a parks measure in June 2018?
Proposition 68 is a statewide bond measure approved by California voters in June 2018 for parks and natural resources. Local park departments each will receive a one-time grant from this state bond, based on the population they serve. While these grants are welcomed, the amounts are small compared to the total amounts needed for Sonoma County’s parks. With approval of Measure M, the county’s park agencies are eligible to compete for an additional $40 million in Prop. 68 funds. The additional state bond funds are available only to jurisdictions whose voters approved a local parks funding measure by November 2018.
How can I get more information?