Sales tax increase needed in Paso to repair its streets

City has already scrimped and requires the additional revenue

letters@thetribunenews.comAugust 26, 2012 

In Paso Robles, a half-cent sales tax increase on the November ballot would generate an estimated $3 million per year — money the city would use to repair its deteriorating streets.

We strongly urge voters to approve the tax.

We recognize that, in this economy, tax increases are unpopular.

But the city of Paso Robles has already scrimped and saved as much as it can. Between state takeaways and declining tax revenues, it can no longer provide adequate services, especially when it comes to road maintenance.

There is a huge backlog of need; city officials estimate that it will cost $80 million to repair roads and an additional $3 million per year to maintain them.

The current council has indicated that the additional revenue will be used primarily for road improvements. That’s fine with us. Street maintenance may not be as exciting as, say, asenior center or a playground or swimming pool, but it’s one of the of the most basic services that cities must provide.

And while we agree that the sales tax revenue should go to roads, it’s important to note that because this is a general tax measure, the money also could be used for other purposes if necessary.

That’s good — the city should have some flexibility to deal with emergencies.

For those who are worried that the city would have too much freedom to spend the new revenue, there are acouple of safeguards to ensure the money is well spent:

There is a sunset clause; the tax will expire in 12 years, unless voters authorize an extension.

Also, there will be a citizens oversight committee reviewing proposed expenditures.

Keep in mind, too, that raising the rate by a half-cent, to 7.75 percent, will bring Paso Robles in line with several other local cities. San Luis Obispo, Pismo Beach, Grover Beach, Morro Bay and Arroyo Grande all raised their rates to 7.75 percent several years ago and have been able to fund a multitude of projects.

For example, San Luis Obispo — which passed the Measure Y sales tax in 2006 — has used its additional tax revenue to complete a long list of upgrades to streets, storm drains and waterlines. That’s work that might not have been funded otherwise.

If the city of Paso Robles wants to continue to attract tourists and provide a good quality of life for its residents, it, too, must find a way to maintain its infrastructure. Otherwise, it will be at a clear disadvantage compared to other Central Coast communities.

We don’t doubt that, despite the clear need, some voters will oppose the tax on principle and will argue that government should learn to live within its means.

We believe, though, that Paso Robles has been extremely conservative when it comes to budgeting. It’s reduced spending by $7 million per year since 2009 by eliminating 35 percent of city jobs, renegotiating pensions, freezing pay and reducing services.

But enough is enough.

Without additional revenue, Paso Robles’ public streets will continue to deteriorate.

In the face of so much need, even an additional $3 million per year won’t be enough — but it’s a start.

The Tribune urges a yes vote on Paso Robles Measure E-12 on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Editorials are the opinion of The Tribune.

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