Paso Robles ponders raising sales tax by half-cent

Money would have special designation, so two-thirds of voters need to OK it

tstrickland@thetribunenews.comMarch 26, 2012 

Paso Robles voters in November will decide whether they want a half-cent sales tax increase to raise additional money for road repairs and public safety.

The City Council on Saturday held its second public study session this year detailing how to rebuild services after years of cuts.

If the economy recovers as expected, that would add only about $1.3 million total revenue over the next five years, without the tax increase. But the city has cut more than $7 million in annual spending since 2009.

Like other California counties and cities, Paso Robles receives 1 percentage point of the 7.25 percent sales tax that local shoppers see on their receipts.

Five of San Luis Obispo County’s seven cities levy a 7.75 percent sales tax. The rate in Atascadero and unincorporated areas is 7.25 percent.

The council decided that the new revenue would go to specific purposes rather than general uses, so the increase would require two-thirds voter approval under state law.

In the five local cities where voters nearly six years ago approved half-cent increases, the measures were presented as general taxes, which require simple majority approval and have no legal restrictions on how the revenue would be spent.

“I’ve heard from residents that they don’t trust a general tax because they want to know what it will go to,” Mayor Duane Picanco said of the council’s proposal to direct the money to roads and public safety.

The half-cent hike would bring approximately $3 million in added annual revenue over the course of 12 years, if approved by Paso Robles voters.

The Police Department wants about $950,000 for its patrol and detective bureaus.

The Fire Department wants about $380,000 to hire seven additional firefighters and provide new training and disaster preparedness.

But bringing roads up to a favorable condition would require a one-time payment of $80 million, plus $3.2 million more in annual upkeep thereafter.

Those details came after various citizens have voiced concerns about cuts in library services, recreation, police, fire and roads.

The council also set other short-term priorities: hire one police officer for the San Luis Obispo County Narcotics & Gang Task Force, pay for pothole repairs on city streets, replace the city’s budget and accounting system software, provide part-time support for library and recreation services and add a risk management specialist to the city.

The council also opted to look for ways to lessen the costs of contracted services.

Among the options are consolidating local public transit with the Regional Transit Authority, asking the YMCA to operate the city’s recreational classes at Centennial Park and discussing options for outside help to operate the city’s senior center.

Aside from the tax increase, the initiatives are not finalized and the council plans to discuss them in the coming months. Any changes could begin after July 1, City Manager Jim App said.

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