A community forum will be held next week to seek feedback on proposed new sales and property taxes in the city of San Luis Obispo.
The city announced earlier this month that it may soon ask the public to consider an increase that would boost its sales tax rate from 7.75 percent to 8.75 percent. The city is also proposing increasing property taxes. The forum will be at 6 p.m. March 26 at the city's Police Department, 1042 Walnut St.
The tax increase would help cover about $400 million in additional revenue needed to fund several planned infrastructure projects over the next two decades.
Some of the larger projects the city is planning include a redesigned Mission Plaza; cross-town bike corridors and separated bike paths; and upgrading or building new public safety facilities, such as a police station and emergency operations center.
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"The City of San Luis Obispo is embarking on a comprehensive review of the projects and associated funding needs that will provide the services and experiences local residents desire for the future of the City," San Luis Obispo officials said in a statement. "We want your input on funding the future of SLO."
Daryl Grisby, the city's director of public works, said that the city’s projected pension shortfalls are a separate issue. No sales or property tax increases for infrastructure would go toward pensions, he said.
Residents weigh in using online survey
As of Friday, 28 people gave statements on the possibility of new taxes used to pay infrastructure on the city's online survey, including some harsh critics."Our taxes are high enough in this community," wrote commenter Susie Link. "I do not appreciate the mentality of keeping up with the Jones. We are not Santa Barbara and I don't want to live in Santa Barbara."Some residents said that the city needs to pay down its sizable pension liability debt before it starts thinking about new major city infrastructure spending."Where are the city's priorities?" wrote commenter Odile Aryal. "You want us to fund many more millions to give a facelift to Mission Plaza, but you don't have the money to fund pensions."Daryl Grisby, the city's director of public works, however, said that the city’s pension shortfalls are a separate issue. No sales or property tax increases for infrastructure would go toward pensions, he said.But others surveyed expressed a more nuanced view or favored the idea, at least in part."I would be in favor of a sales tax and TOT (hotel tax) increase as this puts the majority of the burden on tourist dollars," said commenter Garrett Otto. "I would not support an increase to property taxes due to our high housing cost in SLO."A 2014 city study showed that about 70 percent of sales tax generated in San Luis Obispo is paid by visitors."I don't like my taxes raised either.... but I also understand that projects take money and a citizen like me that wants to ride his bike more and loves the mission and our safe city should be willing to pay a bit more to get those things," said Justin Bradshaw, who suggested raising the sales tax by 0.5 percent is more appropriate.
How the city is spending its Measure G funds
The city recently released a report on how it spent funds from its last sale tax increase, an eight-year 0.5 percent hike passed by voters in November 2014, noting neighborhood street paving and public safety accounted for nearly half of the $6.1 million in Measure G funds spent by the city during the 2016-17 fiscal year.
Measure G is a separate funding source from the proposed new city sales and property taxes; the measure funds the maintenance of existing facilities and services.
An additional $1.3 million in unspent funds remains assigned to capital improvement projects.
The redesigned and newly built Sinsheimer Park playground, which opened to the public in late 2017, was funded by Measure G, city officials said. The $1.1 million project took 11 months to build and replaced the original 1970 playground.
The next biggest Measure G expenditure (23 percent) was directed toward public safety, which included funding for downtown police officers.
Other targets for the money included: flood protection (18 percent), bicycle and pedestrian improvements (14 percent), open space preservation, including adding 154 acres of open space with the acquisition of Waddell Ranch in 2017 (10 percent); code enforcement (4 percent), parks and recreation/senior programs and facilities (3 percent), and traffic congestion relief/safety improvements (3 percent).
A report in brief was included in all March city utility bills and the full report is available online at www.slocity.org/budget.
The city will hold its Annual Community Oversight meeting April 12 in council chambers, which will include the annual report in more detail, highlighting specific projects completed and provide an opportunity for the public to give feedback on how the funds should be used.