SANTA ROSA (CBS SF) – Voters in Sonoma and Marin counties who approved a quarter-cent sales tax for 20 years in 2008 to pay for the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit train and bike/pedestrian path may be asked next year to extend the tax another 20 years.

SMART staff Wednesday asked the Board of Directors to consider putting a measure to extend the tax on the March 2020 presidential primary ballot.

In a report to the bi-county board Wednesday, SMART’s Chief Financial Officer Erin McGrath said extending the sales tax would provide room for debt restructuring and bring expenses down in the future.

The best way to balance available revenue and expenses would be to provide for a longer window for debt payment of the original bonds, McGrath said.

SMART’s strategic plan for revenues and expenses includes sales tax extension ideas, debt restructuring options, and funding strategies to extend the current 43-mile rail line to Healdsburg and Windsor, according to McGrath.

“This year provides an opportunity to prepare for a tax renewal as part of the (tax) Measure Q’s required Strategic Plan,” she said.

“Finally, we have an opportunity to have the tax renewal considered by a large number of voters in March of 2020 as part of California’s Presidential Primary when voter turnout is anticipated to be high,” McGrath said.

SMART will have to prepare documents that include the strategic plan, expenditure plan and short-range transit plan over the next few months to get the proposed tax extension measure on next year’s ballot, McGrath said.

The SMART Board of Directors in October and November would then consider putting it on the ballot.

The tax measure has produced $289 million in revenue through fiscal year 2018, and SMART has $17 million in a reserve fund. Train service in Sonoma and Marin counties began in August 2017.

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