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SLO County to consider 'self-help' sales tax for transportation funds 

A proposed sales tax that could generate much-needed funding for transportation and road improvements in San Luis Obispo County is getting a final tune-up before it starts a long drive to the November ballot.

The SLO Council of Governments (SLOCOG)—a collaborative regional body with representatives from local cities and the county that primarily focuses on transportation matters—is proposing the ballot measure. The SLOCOG board discussed an outreach strategy on April 6, and voted 10-1 to move forward. The proposal aims for a sweet spot in voter’s sentiments as they weigh the benefits of road maintenance and improvements with the cost of a new tax.

“I don’t think there is anybody out there that wakes up and says, ‘I want a new sales tax,’” Outreach Consultant Kendall Flint said. “But people do have ideas about projects and [improvements that] they want to see.”

The transportation investment plan would create a 0.5 percent sales tax for a nine-year period, generating an estimated $225 million. Those funds would be used exclusively for road repairs and transportation improvements (including intersections and traffic calming measures), public transportation, bike and pedestrian safety, and regional projects. It would allocate a base sum to each city and to the county, plus additional funds based on population.

In the next few weeks, the proposal will be shopped around to local cities and the county, where there will be opportunities to offer input.

The measure, called a “self-help” county effort, is designed to compensate for the severe decline in transportation funding allocated from the state. Many of the existing funds are now disbursed through matching grants, and SLO County is often out-competed for those by counties that already have a self-help measure in place, said SLOCOG Planning Director James Worthly.

The Morro Bay City Council was the first local governmental body to hear SLOCOG’s update. At its April 12 meeting, SLOCOG Executive Director Ron De Carli illustrated the impacts of dried-up funding.

“Ten years ago we were spending $15 million a year on freeway interchanges,” he said. “Now it’s zero.”

The measure is being opposed by the Central Coast Taxpayer’s Association (CCTA), which says that these problems should be worked out in Sacramento, not by a new tax. In an April 5 letter to the SLOCOG board, CCTA President Jordan Cunningham, who’s currently running for a state Assembly seat, urged the board to ditch the measure, saying that voters wouldn’t support the new tax.

De Carli said that the measure would create a citizen’s oversight board, which will help maintain accountability in the use of the funds generated.

The tax will require two-thirds of voters to approve it.

The item is scheduled to go before the Grover Beach City Council on April 18, and before the SLO County Board of Supervisors, the Paso Robles City Council, and the Pismo Beach City Council at the respective April 19 meetings.

It will return to the SLOCOG board in May, then be considered by all local jurisdictions for a final approval in June, and if it’s still a go, both the SLOCOG board and the county Board of Supervisors will vote in August to officially placed the measure on the ballot.

-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay

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