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City stalls road tax decision

POSTED July 9, 2013 9:43 p.m.

The Turlock City Council has decided to table a proposed road tax for the time being and wait to see what avenue Stanislaus County is going to take on a possible county-wide measure.

The Council was scheduled to provide city staff with direction on implementing a special tax initiative for repairing the city’s network of roads at Tuesday night’s meeting. However, the Council decided to not take any action on the matter after hearing a county-wide road tax option is still viable.

“The county-wide tax is not off the table at this point,” said Council member Forrest White, who serves as Turlock’s representative on the Stanislaus Council of Governments. “I want to see what they will come up with before we move ahead with a ballot measure.”

Council member Bill DeHart said the issue of road improvements was too vital to force hastily onto a ballot.

“We need to get our ducks in a row before we lay out to voters what we are proposing,” DeHart said. “Going off half prepared to get something on the ballot is foolhardy.”

The move to table any action on the issue comes after the city hosted a series of public forums that drew only a sparse response from the community.

At those meetings the city discussed several funding options for fixing Turlock’s roads.

One funding option raised would be to create a citywide assessment district that would be funded by a parcel tax. According to the city engineering department’s estimate, an average lot would have an assessment fee of about $402 a year imposed in order to keep the roads in the satisfactory range. This type of funding option could have a negative impact on anyone living on a fixed or lower income.

Another option is to have the parcel tax based on square footage. Director of Development Services and City Engineer Michael 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.

The third option is to increase the sales tax by a half cent, which is estimated to bring in around $5 million. This option has seen the most public support so far, though people would rather see the revenue in a protected fund as opposed to the general fund. If the revenue is to be put into a protected fund and used solely for road maintenance, it would need to be passed by a two-thirds majority. If the tax is just added to the general fund, it would need a 50 percent plus one vote to pass.

Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors Chair Vito Chiesa spoke at Turlock’s meeting Tuesday and expressed his hopes for a county-wide measure.

“Turlock has raised the tenor of the conversation county-wide,” Chiesa said. “I would hope you can give us an opportunity at the StanCog level to see what we can do.”

One issued raised about a possible county-wide tax is how the money would be doled out to the various cities and if Turlock would lose funds to larger projects in Modesto.

“They will need to knock out some agreement that will detail how the money is split up,” White said.

The last time a county-wide tax was on the ballot in Stanislaus County was in 2008 and it failed by a small margin to reach the two-thirds majority.

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