In the 1870s, this part of California was several years from having a railroad. The Coast Line Stage Co. carried passengers up and down El Camino Real in good weather or bad. And if a stage coach got stuck navigating a hill or low spot, the passengers got out and pushed.
Nowadays Paso Robles, my hometown, is having trouble navigating the hills and low spots of the recession. I think we Roblans should be willing to step up and give it a push.
By a push, I mean a "yes" vote on raising the city’s sales tax by a half percentage point to a total of 7.75 percent. City officials estimate that raising it by a half cent per dollar would increase city revenue $3 million per year.
All the other cities in the county already have sales tax rates of 7.75 percent, except Atascadero, where it’s 7.25 percent. It’s also 7.25 percent in unincorporated areas of the county.
According to a city report, the recession has reduced Paso Robles’ tax revenue $7 million per year.
That led the city to eliminate 76 jobs from a workforce of 226. The city now has the same number of employees it had in 1991 when its population was 19,000. Its present population is almost 30,000.
City streets are now rarely patched and never resealed or repaved. Pavement is decaying. Street striping goes unpainted and is fading away. The city police force has dwindled to 31 members. The Centennial Park swimming pool was closed in the summer.
Several other city services and facilities are also poverty stricken.
The City Council held a public workshop Saturday to explore ways to maintain city services. The council decided to prepare a sales-tax-increase proposal for possible placement on November’s election ballot. The increase would expire after 12 years and would specifically support streets and public safety.
Because the increase would be for specified purposes, it would, by state law, need the approval of two-thirds of the voters. But if it were presented as being for general city purposes, it would need just a simple majority, although it could still be spent on streets and public safety.
But council members seemed to fear the voters wouldn’t trust them with a tax increase that wasn’t limited to streets and public safety. Maybe they should rethink that.
A two-thirds vote is hard to get even in the best of times. And these days, more than one-third of the voters may already distrust the council on general principle or may hate all taxes no matter how worthy.
Reach Phil Dirkx at firstname.lastname@example.org or 238-2372.