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Roads top issue at first public forum

POSTED April 30, 2013 11:09 p.m.

The City of Turlock held its first community forum Tuesday night with very few community members in attendance.

The forum was held to ostensibly address any city-related issues, but the main topic was the city’s roads and how to pay for the needed repairs.

The city is currently considering a couple of different funding options for the city’s streets. In 2008 a Pavement Management Project, which is an in-depth analysis of the city’s network of roads, gave Turlock an average PCI of 59, which put it in the mid range of the “Satisfactory” category.

In that same report it was recommended the city would need to spend $144.9 million through 2013 to reach a PCI in the low to mid 80s. To keep Turlock’s streets at the status quo PCI of 59, the report stated the city would need to spend about $9 million annually on repairs and maintenance. That amount has now been adjusted to $10 million said Director of Development Services and City Engineer Michael Pitcock.

One funding option raised would be to create a citywide assessment district that would be funded by a parcel tax. According to the engineering department’s estimate, an average lot would have an assessment fee of about $402 imposed in order to keep the roads in the satisfactory range. Pitcock pointed out that this option could have a negative impact on those with fixed and lower incomes.

 Another option is to have the parcel tax based on square footage. Pitcock estimated it would cost property owners about 2 cents per square foot, leaving the average property owner paying around $162 annually. However, this option would hit large landowners, such as ranchers and farmers, particularly hard. Additionally, a California appeals court has ruled that a tiered-tax rate is invalid because the rate is not applied uniformly.

The third option is to increase the sales tax by a half cent and devote the revenue solely toward road improvements. The engineering department estimates a sales tax increase would generate about $5 million a year that when combined with federal, state, and assessment funds and gas tax revenue, could be used to repair the roads.

Stanislaus County has previously tried to get a sales tax increase passed for road repairs, but the measure failed. Any new funding from new taxes in the city would need voter approval.

Only about a dozen people attended the first forum at Dutcher Middle School and of that only three chose to speak. One of those was former City Council member Kurt Spycher.

“It should come as no surprise that I’m not in favor of any new taxes,” Spycher said. “Voters have rejected it in the past and I don’t see the wisdom in putting it on the ballot again when that is going to cost the city money.”

Spycher argued that a half cent sales tax could put Turlock at a disadvantage in trying to entice shoppers to the city.

“They’re going to go some place that doesn’t have an additional tax,” Spycher said.

At least at this community forum Spycher’s views were in the minority. The two other people to voice their opinions were both in favor of the half cent sales tax.

“I’m still going to shop in Turlock because this is my home,” said resident Bruce Abanathie. “This would be one of the few taxes that would stay here in our community. We have an opportunity here and I think we should take it.”

Dewey Rowe, who has lived in Turlock for 45 years, agreed the time is now to enact the half cent sales tax.

“In the last 15 years these streets have gone to pot,” Rowe said. “Let’s get this thing going now.”

The city will hold three more community forums. Additional meetings are scheduled for 6 p.m. May 9 at Westside Ministries, 925 Columbia St.; 6 p.m. May 30 at the Turlock Senior Citizens Center,  1191 Cahill Ave.; and 7 p.m. June 13 at Pitman High School’s cafeteria, 2525 W. Christoffersen Parkway.

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