Paso set to pass sales tax hike

Type of measure allowed a lower threshold of approval, but leaders promise to use funds on ramshackle roads

tstrickland@thetribunenews.comNovember 8, 2012 

One half cent of every dollar.

That’s the price a majority of Paso Roblans who voted are willing to pay to help bolster a city whittled by cuts.

So far, nearly 59 percent of voters have supported a half-cent sales tax to help the city’s general fund — enough to get the controversial measure to pass.

The question of whether voters would support raising the city’s sales tax by half a cent to help the general fund — critics said they wouldn’t — held a tight grip on this election season.

But the community’s desire to fix the city’s cracked and pothole-filled streets overcame the opposition. And, with only 50 percent plus one vote needed to pass, the tax hike will begin April 1.

“The … key factor there is the streets and roads in Paso Robles are in dire shape, and the people see that and experience that,” said Ron DeCarli, executive director of the San Luis Obispo Council of Governments, which conducts local transportation studies.

Measure E-12 raises the city’s sales tax by a half cent for the next 12 years. The increase was predicted to bring the city nearly $3 million annually, but revised estimates have grown to $3.5 million annually based on the city’s gross sales tax income of $7 million per year.

A revamped roadwork program could begin as soon as summer 2013.

The City Council placed the measure on the ballot as a general sales tax because members weren’t confident voters would pass a specific tax. Such a tax has a higher bar of approval than a
general-use tax’s standard. The city needed the supplemental cash for street repairs because of dwindling state and federal road funds.

The council’s worries were based on a poll conducted last year by SLOCOG that determined 60 percent of 600 residents countywide would support road improvements through a half-cent sales tax for 20 years. The poll also found that a two-thirds vote needed to pass a specific tax would never pass in the current economic climate.

The City Council took those results to heart, ultimately pushing a general tax as its best shot at getting new money. Meanwhile, some residents said they were offended that the council would put its faith in countywide pollers instead of trusting the city’s own residents to pass a specific tax.

Council members put Measure F-12, which passed, on the ballot to guide future councils to use the money specifically on roads. F-12 has received 71 percent approval so far.

Still, some residents don’t trust that a general sales tax would fund road repairs.

The city is now preparing a multi-year, multimillion-dollar road repair plan for City Council consideration, City Manager Jim App said. An initial four-year road repair plan will be presented to the City Council in January or February.

Like other California counties and cities, Paso Robles receives 1 percentage point of the 7.25 percent sales tax. The new rate will be 7.75 percent, similar to five other cities in the county. Atascadero has the lowest sales tax rate now at 7.25 percent.

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