Paso Robles considers new tack for proposed sales tax increase

The Paso Robles City Council may now ask voters to approve raising the city’s sales tax by half a cent for general uses — rather than a specific-use tax — in hopes voters will pass the revenue builder in November.

The half-cent tax hike would bring nearly $3 million in added revenue each year for 12 years.

Paso Robles receives 1 percentage point of the 7.25 percent sales tax that local shoppers see on their receipts.

The council was split 3-2 earlier this month on a general-sales tax initiative after first considering a specific-use tax in March.

Three of the five council members didn’t believe a special sales tax measure would pass, Mayor Duane Picanco said. General tax measures need 50 percent plus one vote, because the resulting funds would go into the city's general fund. Sales tax measures targeted to specific services instead require two-thirds vote and have separate accounts for their intended uses.

Road repair is a key concern in Paso Robles, and the council is leaning toward using the new revenue for that should voters pass the measure.

On Tuesday, the council unanimously agreed to the general-sales tax.

“The problem is, in order to put it on the ballot, you need a 4-1 vote. You can’t have a split vote,” Picanco said.

There’s still another chance for discussion at the council’s July 3 meeting for the final reading of the proposed ballot measure. Picanco said he might change his mind on approving a general-use tax.

“My opinion was, and still is, that people will vote for a specific tax because they want the assurance that the money would be spent for roads,” he said.

Some residents fear that a general-sales tax would be used for other expenses, such as city employee pay.

The council may be able to attach preferences to general tax spending — such as establishing goals for the money or forming an ad hoc committee with citizens — and those potential options will also be presented July 3.