Community Columns & Blogs

Should Paso raise its sales tax to fund road repairs, new fire station?

Paso Robles is considering putting a sales tax increase on the November ballot to fund road repairs and a new fire station.
Paso Robles is considering putting a sales tax increase on the November ballot to fund road repairs and a new fire station. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

If you’ve driven in my hometown, Paso Robles, you know how urgently Paso’s streets need fixing. And does anyone doubt that the city of Paso Robles also needs a third fire station, probably in the growing northeastern part of the city?

Paso Robles city officials are aware of those needs, but meeting them takes money. So the officials are considering increasing the city’s sales tax. They have scheduled a town meeting to explain the need, answer questions and hear comments. It will start at 6 p.m. on July 16 at the Flamson Middle School.

The city’s problems date back to the Great Recession of 2008. It was the worst international financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. It started because banks made too many bad loans. Some major banks almost collapsed. One actually did. Credit almost dried up. Some businesses failed.

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The tax revenues of cities like Paso Robles shrank dramatically. Paso Robles reduced routine upkeep including street maintenance. The neglected streets worsened every year. Some still need major work.

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Tribune columnist Phil Dirkx. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Private construction, however, recovered more quickly and kept enlarging the city. So, northeastern Paso Robles now needs its own fire station. Paso Robles presently has only two fire stations: one near downtown and one in the city’s southeastern section.

Paso Robles city officials are considering meeting those needs by raising the sales tax in the city by 1 percent. It would go from its present 7.75 percent to 8.75 percent. But local governments don’t get the entire sales tax collected within their boundaries. The first 6 percent goes to the state.

Right now, all seven cities in San Luis Obispo County charge a 7.75 percent sales tax. The county charges only 7.25 percent in its unincorporated territory. But Paso Robles officials feel that Paso’s needs are now urgent enough to justify raising our sales tax.

And if the sales tax in Paso Robles rises to 8.75 percent, it still won’t be unusually high. Many cities collect that much or more. Santa Barbara already collects 8.75 percent. Greenfield in Monterey County collects 9.5 percent. Seven cities in Los Angeles County collect 10.25 percent.

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Ronald L. De Carli, executive director of San Luis Obispo Council of Governments, talks about how the government maintains and builds streets in San Luis Obispo County.

Raising the Paso Robles sales tax will increase our cost of living some. And it might also hurt local retail businesses. Some Roblans might go out of town to buy big-ticket items such as major appliances and vehicles. Those are impacts we Roblans are going to have to think about.

City officials are now thinking of putting a sales tax increase on our November election ballot. The city commissioned an opinion survey of 720 likely voters, and 59 percent supported a 1 percent sales-tax increase.

But we need to hear more details and opinions. So I plan to attend the July 16 meeting.

Phil Dirkx’s column is special to the Tribune. He has lived in Paso Robles for more than five decades and his column appears every other week. Reach Dirkx at 805-238-2372 or phild2008@sbcglobal.net.

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