Atascadero to consider sales tax increase

Council may ask voters to raise the tax to 8 percent to help the city pay for roads, and possibly parks, the zoo and other city services

tstrickland@thetribunenews.comApril 21, 2014 

Increasing Atascadero's sales tax would help upgrade roads, described as the city's "biggest challenge," city leaders say. Shown here is pavement damage on East Front Street.


Correction: An earlier version of this story said Atascadero will vote Tuesday night to put a sales tax measure on November's ballot. On Tuesday night the council will decide whether to direct staff to start drafting such an ordinance. A vote on whether to put it on the ballot would take place June 24.

Shopping could get a little pricier in San Luis Obispo County’s least expensive city for sales tax.

Atascadero leaders are considering placing a measure on the November ballot to increase the levy to 8 percent from 7.5 percent to bolster the city’s income.

On Tuesday, the City Council is also expected decide whether to focus the potential ballot measure on fixing roads or to also add improvements to other city resources such as parks, police and fire stations, and the Charles Paddock Zoo. 

Mayor Tom O’Malley said Friday that all options will be up for discussion, and he did not say which choice he supported. But O’Malley described the condition of roads as the city’s “biggest challenge” and their repair a “critical unmet need.”

“I personally support anything we can do to improve our roads,” he said.

The increase would generate an estimated $1.7 million to $2 million annually, according to the city.

“The city’s ability to fund the long-term replacement of infrastructure, and particularly roads, has been a concern of the City Council for quite some time,” the city’s public works staff wrote in a report to the council.

If the tax increase passes, Atascadero would no longer be the county’s only city that has kept the state’s 7.5 percent base tax on sales receipts. Shoppers in the county’s six other cities already pay an 8 percent sales tax. 

The sales tax rate is 7.5 percent in unincorporated areas of the county.

In February, Atascadero’s City Council polled residents to see whether they favored a tax hike. A research group found that 61 percent of the 402 people interviewed would support it, according to the staff report.

The polling group advised that community support would be stronger “if the proceeds of the sales tax were to go primarily to roads,” according to the staff report.

Voters in the neighboring city of Paso Robles had the same experience in 2012 when they passed measures that paired a general sales tax hike with an advisory to direct the money to road repairs. City leaders there weren’t confident voters would pass a specific tax just for roads, which requires a two-thirds majority, instead of a simple majority for a general-use tax. 

The Atascadero City Council is expected to decide Tuesday night whether to direct its staff to draft a general, half-cent sales tax measure for the November ballot. If the council gives that direction tonight, the measure will likely return to the council on June 24 for a final decision. A two-thirds vote (a 4-1 vote) of the council will be needed to put a measure on the November ballot.

Like other California counties and cities, Atascadero receives 1 percentage point of the state’s base 7.5 percent sales tax.

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