RICHMOND -- Local voters may be willing to pass a half-cent sales tax in November, which city officials say is crucial to repairing the city's crumbling roads, but only if the revenue is used for public safety and youth programs as well, according to a survey conducted by a San Mateo-based polling and market research firm.
The City Council on Tuesday directed staff to draft language for a sales-tax ballot measure in November.
"Let's give the people an opportunity to decide and vote," Councilman Tom Butt said. "We are kind of down to the point that we either try this or we do nothing."
Without millions in new sales tax funds -- which would support bonds for road repair -- city streets are destined for continued decline, said associate city civil engineer Tawfic Halaby.
A half-cent sales tax hike, which would raise the total sales tax rate in the city from 9 percent to 9.5 percent, could generate about $7 million per year, according to a city staff report. With that new funding, the city could secure a $90 million bond and spend $30 million per year over three years on an ambitious project to fix hundreds of miles of city streets.
Richmond long has had a reputation for having some of the Bay Area's craggiest streets, and city studies suggest the problem is getting worse. Public works officials concede that at least 30 neighborhoods are marred by failed, unsafe streets, but funding constraints render them powerless to act.
About 53 percent of the city's streets are in good condition or better, according to a city report, but about 32 percent are in "poor" or "failed" condition, a ratio that rises faster than city crews can fix them on a shoestring budget.
But some council members expressed concern with the survey's findings, which the city paid Godbe Research $50,000 to compile.
According to the survey, about 75 percent of registered voters would approve the sales tax hike, but with the caveat that they want to see some of the funding used for purposes such as crime reduction and youth recreation and education programs.
A tax specifically earmarked for one purpose, such as road repairs, requires a two-thirds vote, per state law, while a general fund tax requires a simple majority. Godbe officials said the tax was unlikely to pass if it were aimed solely at road repair.
Councilman Jim Rogers said he was concerned that city officials need the money to go mostly for roads but plan to put public safety and youth services in the ballot language to draw stronger support.
"I don't think we should have a secret plan," Rogers said. "I personally would not want to participate in that process."
City Finance Director James Goins said the sales tax would go to the general fund, and then it would be the council's decision how to spend it. Goins added that the road reconstruction project, funded with the majority of sales tax proceeds, could generate about 200 jobs in the city.
City Manager Bill Lindsay said the city, which is struggling to close a $3.7 million budget deficit, must have the tax to reverse the trend of deteriorating roads.
"We have less and less discretionary money to use on roads," Lindsay said.
The ballot measure language is expected to come back to the council for approval next month. If passed by voters in November, the tax would take effect Jan. 1.