Half-cent sales tax should be extended in SLO, panel advises

acornejo@thetribunenews.comMarch 1, 2014 

A ballot measure to renew San Luis Obispo’s added half-cent sales tax should be put on the November ballot, the city’s Local Revenue Measure Advisory Committee has recommended.

The measure would extend Measure Y, approved by voters in 2006, which is set to expire in March 2015.

The committee recommended a ballot measure that would extend the tax for an additional eight years and retain it as a general purpose tax. If voters approve the extension, the city’s local sales tax rate would remain at 8 percent.

The committee opted against a special-purpose tax that specifically designates how funds can be spent and requires a two-thirds voter approval. A general purpose tax only needs a majority approval to pass.

Two people on the 10-member advisory body, appointed by the City Council in September, did not vote in favor of seeking renewal because of concerns that not enough of the money would be spent on capital improvements.

John Fowler, who also sits on the city’s Planning Commission, said he supports the premise of extending the sales tax increase but wanted specific guarantees written into the measure that would dictate how much of the money would be spent on capital improvements.

“I wanted more teeth in it,” said Fowler. “I really do feel the city will suffer without it but the recommendation was not strong enough for me to support it.”

Existing Measure Y revenue, expected to be $6.5 million annually in the current budget, is spent on both capital improvements and operating costs. It equates to 12 percent of the city's $55.5 million general fund.

Capital improvements such as street paving, storm drain replacement and new bike paths, account for 60 percent of those expenditures, said Wayne Padilla, director of finance and information technology.

The remaining 40 percent is spent on staffing. The city pays for 17 full-time positions with Measure Y funds, including two neighborhood services specialists, parks maintenance workers, a full-time fire marshal and two new downtown daytime patrol officers.

“The committee believes voters should continue to have the opportunity to decide what kind of community they want by either extending the half-cent sales tax for another eight years or rejecting it in preference for a more limited budget,” according to the committee’s report, which was made public Friday.

The committee’s recommendation will be presented to the council on April 1. In San Luis Obispo County, Arroyo Grande, Morro Bay, Paso Robles, Pismo Beach and Santa Maria have similar sales tax measures.


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