Atascadero should put tax increase up for a vote

Residents would benefit from improvements and repairs a sales tax increase would fund

letters@thetribunenews.comApril 22, 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.

DAVID MIDDLECAMP — dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com Buy Photo

It may seem counterintuitive for a community that’s attempting to boost tourism and encourage its residents to “buy local” to raise the sales tax. However, commercial districts are not going to attract business if their charms are overshadowed by shoddy roads, poor traffic circulation and other drawbacks.

As Atascadero Mayor Tom O’Malley told The Tribune, road repair in the city is a “critical unmet need.” And roads are just part of the equation: Cities need to provide adequate and convenient parking in their downtown cores; be well policed; and have sidewalks, parks, restrooms and other public infrastructure in good repair.

For that reason, we strongly urge the Atascadero City Council 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.

Here’s why a sales tax measure should go on the ballot:

• Residents of Atascadero should have the chance to decide for themselves whether to tap a source of revenue expected to generate between $1.7 million and $2 million per year.

• In a recent poll, 61 percent of residents surveyed said they would support a sales tax measure — and that’s without any campaigning for the tax.

• Atascadero is the only incorporated city in the county that still has the sales tax at 7.5 percent; the others are at 8 percent. While we don’t believe that every city in the county should play follow-the-leader, we believe it makes sense to have the sales tax rate uniform throughout all cities the county. (The Board of Supervisors may also want to get on board for unincorporated communities.)

• A modest sales tax increase is a relatively painless way to increase revenue; in the city of San Luis Obispo, the half-cent tax increase costs the average household $96 per year.

We believe it makes sense for the council to put a general tax on the ballot, rather than a special tax, for a couple of reasons. A special tax requires 66.6 percent approval to pass, and as we’ve said before, that bar is too high. Also, a general tax would give the city flexibility to deal with emergencies or changing priorities.

If the city wants guidance on how to spend the sales tax revenue, it can direct staff to put an advisory measure on the ballot and/or create a citizens committee to make recommendations on expenditures.

Granted, a half-cent tax increase would not take care of the city’s backlog of needs overnight, but it would provide the revenue to embark on a more aggressive program of improvements. We believe the voters of Atascadero — such as the voters of the county’s six other cities — would support that.

Again, we strongly urge the Atascadero City Council to give them that chance by instructing staff to begin the process of putting a general sales tax measure on the November ballot.

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