Pismo Beach puts sales tax extension on Nov. 4 ballot

Pismo Beach City Hall.
Pismo Beach City Hall. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Calling it "essential," Pismo Beach City Council members agreed to ask local voters to extend an existing half-percent sales tax increase for 12 years.

After some debate on the length of the extension, the council voted 4-0 to place the measure on the Nov. 4 ballot. Councilman Kris Vardas was absent.

Councilman Ed Waage said the tax extension is needed to complete a number of city projects.

"We have a lot of things we're working on," Waage said. "We've made a lot of progress but we're not done yet."

Pismo Beach officials said the tax increase has raised more than $6 million since voters approved it in 2008 through Measure C. The sales tax measure requires a majority vote to pass; in 2008, Measure C passed with 55.8 percent of the vote.

The measure raised the city sales tax rate to 7.75 percent from 7.25 percent for 6½ years. (The sales tax rate was raised to 8 percent after Proposition 30, a statewide tax measure passed in 2012.)

The Measure C increase is set to expire March 31, 2015. Local officials say an extension could raise another $13 million to $15 million over the next decade and help fund long-term infrastructure projects such as undergrounding utilities, improving parks and constructing new storm drains.

Officials have identified about $21 million worth of projects over the next decade. Street paving projects alone are anticipated to cost $6 million over the next five years.

A few residents told the council Tuesday that they would support the measure; however, two suggested a shorter sunset period than 12 years.

"I think the sunset is important so the community knows you're accountable," resident Don Day said. "And having a shorter one ... keeps you accountable to the public and I think that's very important today."

Council members discussed a shorter sunset date — noting that it might be easier to persuade residents to vote for it — but decided that the longer period would give them a more reliable income stream to finance larger projects.

Mayor Shelly Higginbotham proposed the city also produce a quarterly report showing how the money is being used, a suggestion that also was approved by the council. The key to the measure's success, she said, will be showing how critical the revenue has been to the city.

To date, more than $3.8 million has been spent on projects, including seven miles of street paving, sidewalk repairs at 62 locations, storm drain maintenance and repairs, and maintenance of the Pismo Beach Pier.

Additional projects totaling about $4 million should be underway by 2015, including three additional miles of street paving projects. City Manager Jim Lewis said about 70 percent of the Measure C revenue comes from tourists, based on information from a consultant who monitors sales tax receipts.