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Golis: Santa Rosa grabs for your cellphone

Let's begin this morning's session with a show of hands. Who out there is excited about the Santa Rosa City Council's plan to tax your cellphone?

Anyone? I didn't think so. Even if you accept the need for a local tax on cellphones — and aren't you a nice person? — this proposal emerges as a pale imitation of what it will take to put things right.

Mayor Scott Bartley and Councilman Jake Ours defended their modest proposal, saying there was not enough time between now and November to prepare a comprehensive ballot measure that returns stability to the city's long-term financial prospects.

But the fact is, the subcommittee assigned to produce a long-term fix has been meeting for more than a year. And there's nothing new about the financial challenges facing the city.

Some detail: If voters in November agree, the city's utility users tax will be extended to cellphones and to phone calls placed over the Internet. At the same time, the tax rate would be reduced from 5 percent to 4.25 percent. The net gain to the city would be $1.6 million a year, a modest amount in a $340 million budget.

The council voted 5-2 to place the measure on the ballot with council members Gary Wysocky and Julie Combs opposed, saying the council should first resolve larger budget issues.

Back in 1970, happier times for local government, no one seemed to notice or care when Santa Rosa decided to impose a tax on electricity, gas, cable TV and landline phones. (According to the Legislative Analyst's Office, about half the state's residents now live in jurisdictions that levy a utility users tax.)

What are the chances voters would approve that tax today? Don't ask.

What's the nexus between city services and cellphones? Let's just say the city needs the money.

Bartley said last week that the measure will spare the city from the erosion of utility tax revenues as consumers abandon land lines for cellphones, Staff Writer Kevin McCallum reported.

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