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Veterans Memorial District off June ballot

POSTED March 13, 2012 10:11 p.m.

A controversial measure to establish a Veterans Memorial District in Stanislaus County – potentially at great cost to the county – was pulled from the June 5 ballot at a special Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday morning after organizers' requests.

The move comes only a week after a 3-2 majority of county supervisors agreed to place it on the ballot.

The same group of veterans who originally supported forming a Veterans Memorial District – governmental bodies dedicated to purchasing, constructing, and maintaining memorial halls and gathering places for veterans' use – abandoned the plan after learning of the costs the county would endure to operate the district.

“They understand now the burden that it would impose on all of our taxpayers,” said Carolyn Hebenstreich, manager of Stanislaus County Veterans Services. “They are all heroes in my book.”

While Veterans Memorial Districts may collect property taxes with voter approval, the measure originally placed on the ballot had no associated taxes. Until voters approved a tax, Stanislaus County would have been forced to picking up the tab for all of the district's expenses — from legal costs to countywide elections to nominate board members.

Those elections would cost the already deficit-ridden county as much as $225,000 every two years.

Larry Johnson, who had applied to serve on the district, termed the last week as a “whirlwind” and very “educational.” He said the group seeking to form the district had not been aware of the costs.

“When we saw what the costs would be to taxpayers, we couldn't in good conscience proceed with forming the district,” Johnson said.

The move was lauded by supervisors, who unanimously approved removing the measure from the ballot.

“I commend you for this,” said Supervisor Terry Withrow. “This is the right thing to do.”

Instead of forming the district, the county will now work with the veterans to establish a new county veterans commission. That commission, with representatives appointed by supervisors rather than through costly elections, will be able to address the veterans' concerns by creating new meeting places and advocating for veterans.

Richard Edgecomb, one of the prospective district board members, supported the new direction and urged the county to move swiftly in creating the commission.

“I just hope we can get this commission done as soon as possible so we can continue caring for veterans,” Edgecomb said.

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