It’s tax time, in more ways than one.
The same day your state and federal income taxes are due — April 17 — the City of San Luis Obispo will consider raising taxes, in one form or another.
Why? To fund a lengthy, $400 million community wish list that includes fixing up Mission Plaza, building a new police station and enhancing bike paths.
If you live in the city, you’ll probably get a chance to weigh in this fall — all the options require voter approval. But now’s the time the city is deciding what type of tax to pursue, so you may want to speak up earlier rather than later.
If you aren’t clear on the difference between a taxing sunset hike and a tax hike sunset, here’s a handy primer to arm you with some municipal revenue-raising knowledge.
General Sales Tax
What is it: That extra bit you pay when you buy clothes, furniture, gifts and most other retail goods. Right now, that’s 7.75 percent on top of the price, or $7.75 for every $100 you spend. The city has floated raising the rate an additional 1 percent, meaning an extra dollar from every Benjamin you drop.
An increase could be designed to sunset, or expire, after a certain number of years or be renewed with an additional vote.
Who pays: Anyone buying something anywhere in the city. A city study from 2014 shows that visitors (including people who live in other parts of SLO County) pay 70 percent of the sales tax collected in its borders.
What it takes to pass: More than 50 percent of the vote on a citywide ballot, which could happen as early as November. In other words, a simple majority of yays.
Specific Sales Tax
What is it: No different from a general sales tax as far as the consumer is concerned: it’s a surcharge on all the stuff you buy. But while the city can use general sales tax revenue with fewer restrictions, a specific sales tax can be used only for, well, a specific purpose. It’s like setting aside some of your money only for holiday gifts, without the fun shopping part.
Who pays: Same as above: anyone buying things in the city.
What it takes to pass: A two-thirds majority of the vote on a citywide ballot, made cooler-sounding by calling it a super-majority.
General Obligation Bond
What is it: A chunk of money the city borrows then pays back (plus interest, of course) through higher property taxes. Bonds are often used for projects with city-wide benefits, maybe a new police station or open spaces. The higher tax expires when the debt is repaid, typically after about 30 years.
Who pays: Folks who own property in the city of San Luis Obispo. The more your property is worth, the more you pay, since property taxes are levied as a percentage of the property’s assessed value. If you want to drop some Latin, that’s an ad valorem tax; if Pig Latin’s more your jam, it’s ad-way alorem-vay.
What it takes to pass: That super two-thirds majority vote on a citywide ballot.
Community Facilities District
What is it: Another way for the city to borrow money that’s paid back by its taxpayers. They’re typically used in a specific area, or district, to pay for a need specific to that district, a neighborhood park, say, or a new fire station. SLO, though, has indicated its community facilities district would be citywide.
Who pays: Property owners are hit with this one, too. But it’s a special parcel tax rather than a property tax. What’s the difference? A parcel tax doesn’t have to be based on the property’s value (it’s on-nay ad-way alorem-vay). It could be a flat fee paid by all property owners or based on square footage, the number of dwelling units or some other formula.
What it takes to pass: Another super-sized vote: two-thirds majority vote of people in the district, which could be city-wide.