Why I'm voting for Paso Robles' sales-tax increase

Special to The TribuneAugust 23, 2012 

All the men in the barbershop Wednesday morning agreed the streets in our hometown, Paso Robles, are in disgraceful disrepair. Even main arteries like Creston Road and Spring Street have patches on the patches on their patches.

These days, none of us has money to spare. Many are coping with lower incomes; all are paying higher prices. On Wednesday I paid $50 for two-thirds of a tank of gas.

But, still, I will vote for the sales-tax increase the City Council is putting on the November ballot. The council said the increase is for fixing Paso Robles’ crumbling streets. That’s a necessity.

How did they get so bad? Well, Paso Robles’ revenues were slashed by the financial crash of 2008. Since 2009 the city’s budget has shrunk 29 percent. Also, the city’s road funds were cut from not quite $400,000 per year to $38,000.

That happened in 2010 because of something former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger did to backfill the state’s budget deficit. He grabbed most of the sales-tax money that California cities received on gasoline sales.

In the past, I occasionally complained that Paso Robles skimped a little on street maintenance. But after the governor took the gas sales-tax money I saw how rapidly streets can become poverty-stricken and potholed if left untended. City officials estimate the streets now need $80 million worth of repairs plus $3.2 million per year for maintenance.

The ballot proposal would raise the sales tax in Paso Robles by half a cent. City officials estimate that would yield $3 million per year. The new rate would be 7.75 percent. It’s now 7.25 percent, of which the state gets 6.25 percent and the city 1 percent. With the proposed increase, Paso Robles would be getting 1.5 percent. The increase would expire in 12 years.

The council has said the increase would be used for maintaining and repairing the city’s streets. To emphasize that purpose and to impress it upon future councils, the present council has authorized a separate, advisory ballot measure. It will ask the voters whether they agree the increase should be spent primarily on streets.

San Luis Obispo County contains seven cities. Five of them already have sales-tax rates of 7.75 percent. Only Atascadero and Paso Robles are still at 7.25 percent. That’s also the rate in unincorporated areas of San Luis Obispo County.

Right now if you buy something in Paso Robles for $10, your sales tax is 73 cents. If Paso Robles voters approve the new rate, your $10 purchase will cost only a nickel more. That isn’t too much to pay for smoother, safer streets.

Phil Dirkx's column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Paso Robles for more than four decades and his column appears here every week. Reach Dirkx at 238-2372 or phild2008@sbcglobal.net.

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