Contra Costa eyes sales tax bump

Contra Costa County supervisors on Tuesday agreed to lay the groundwork for a measure to increase the county’s transportation sales tax next year.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to continue evaluating a half-cent sales tax measure that could appear on the November 2016 ballot.

It is expected to generate $2.3 billion over 25 years for various transit projects if approved by voters.

Supervisors chose not to consider another sales tax measure that would have included funds for police and fire services over the transportation funding in 2016. Supervisors instead are pushing for a special public safety tax measure in 2018.

The decision to move forward with a sales tax increase for roads and transit was a boon for Contra Costa Transportation Authority, which has been engaged in conversations with public agencies about the need for additional funding.

Ross Chittenden, executive director for the authority, said the county’s roads and transit options have to be prepared for a population increase of nearly 30 percent over the next 25 years.

“And these people need to get around,” he said. “Especially as people are looking for alternatives to the car, we need to ensure we’re providing good transportation alternatives.” The funding from a sales tax increase could be used for up to 20 different categories including improved BART service and more dedicated biking pathways, Chittenden said.

“The county’s transportation needs are broad,” he said.

The proposed half-cent sales tax measure could build on an already-existing half-cent sales tax for transportation, which won’t expire until 2034.

But there’s no such tax for public safety. Fire, police and district attorney’s officials came to Tuesday’s supervisors meeting to ask that one be considered ahead of the tax for transportation.

Sgt. Shawn Welch, president of sheriff’s association for the county, said staffing is a major issue.

“We do not have the staffing to deal with more than just one problem,” he told supervisors.

He mentioned Saturday’s fatal shooting in Rodeo, during which, he said, he watched calls for service stack up.

Supervisors acknowledged it was a problem, but said they didn’t have time to build voter support behind a tax for public safety.

Supervisor Candace Andersen said voters see solving traffic problems as something they’re more readily willing to pay for.

The transportation sales tax measure will continue to be evaluated, and is not guaranteed to appear on the 2016 ballot as of yet.