The Turlock City Council took another step towards putting a sales tax measure on the November ballot.
On Tuesday, the City Council decided to create a citizen committee to draft ballot measure language for a proposed local general sales tax measure for the November 2020 ballot.
The committee will be made up of five members of the public — one from each district and then an at-large position — and appointed by City Manager Toby Wells.
Over the past several months the City Council has been considering a sales tax measure as an additional source of revenue. In February, the City Council received the results of a poll commissioned to gauge support for a city sales tax measure. The poll, conducted Feb. 3 through 9 — one month before the beginning of shelter in place health orders in response to the coronavirus — found that a majority of Turlock residents would support a 1 cent sales tax increase to help fund City services.
A number of residents called in their opinions on the sales tax measure during Tuesday’s Council meeting.
Some members of the public said they were for whatever tax measure the Council puts forward, such as Ann Strom who stated, “I’m a homeowner here in Turlock and I endorse and support the sales tax measure for the November 2020 ballot.”
Others were against any type of tax measure.
“Half percent, 1 percent sales tax with no sunset clause, then the voters have to repeal it — that’s not an easy task as a lot of folks just got hit with the shelter in place due to COVID. You’re asking people to make sacrifices when we haven’t even asked the City employees or made internal cuts. I would suggest you do that in conjunction with the budget cuts. How are these taxes going to be spent?... And what is your Plan B if this isn’t passed? If you look at November’s election, nothing passed,” said Pam Franco.
There were others who had an opinion on the percentage of the potential sales tax measure.
“If you were to make our sales tax 1 percent, Turlock would have the highest sales tax rate in all of Stanislaus County. And we would have a sales tax rate higher than all the cities of Merced County. We would have the highest rate in the Valley of nearby cities, except Stockton, California. With a one-half sales tax rate, we would have a rate that is average for the Valley and would not be a burden on our citizens, businesses or store owners,” said Milt Treiweiler.
“I’m excited to see this tax measure move along. I think it’s absolutely necessary; there’s no way we can get around it…One of my concerns is we are way behind schedule…I don’t think half a percent is enough. If we do that for a couple years, we’ll be in the same spot again and we’ll be going out again for another half percent,” said Terri Shaver.
All of the Council members — except for Mayor Amy Bublak — are in favor of a sales tax measure.
Vice Mayor Andrew Nosrati said he supports a half-cent general sales measure.
“We do absolutely have a need to establish and regain the trust from the public and to go after something. I know that 1 percent was something that was polled initially when we did it, but times are different, so many things have changed. Right now, what I think what we need to do is meet the public in the middle and give really give them the opportunity to decide where that money is going to go. And give us an opportunity as leaders back here to regain their trust through showcasing fiscally responsibility,” said Nosrati.
Councilmember Gil Esquer said that despite all the changes in the past few months since the poll was done in February, he continues to support a 1 percent general sales tax measure.
“I worry that half percent might get us a year or two down the road and then we’re going to have to sit there — or whoever is sitting in these chairs — is going to have to sit there and try this again,” said Esquer.
Councilmember Nicole Larson supports a 1 percent sales tax measure to “help secure a future for the City, a future for the young generation of Turlock coming to raise their family here.”
Larson went on to remind the public that the Council as a whole has been committed to fiscal responsibility from the beginning, having accomplished a zero-deficit budget, reducing costs by altering the healthcare plan offered to City employees and looking into revenue sharing with Stanislaus County.
“This has been our number one goal and priority, all of us unanimously supporting us taking care of our budget situation. Since the beginning of taking care of this budget it has been clear that we have a revenue problem. With the number of directors that are vacant, with the number of positions that are vacant, 10 percent vacancy rate for a city our size, is very concerning for the future. It is something that needs to be taken very, very seriously enough that we invest in what we need to do to ensure the public has the opportunity to weigh in,” she continued.
Councilmember Becky Arellano said she has received varying opinions on what the City Council needs to do.
“What we need to do is tell the truth. And the truth is our staff has been doing a lot. They’ve been very productive in what they’ve been doing…We have an opportunity to change the future with not only our thoughts and our minds, but putting our money where our mouth is…We need to make sure fundamentally that we are able to make sure we can take care of our city that we all love,” Arellano said.
The citizens committee is expected to meet in the coming days and put together sales tax measure ballot language for the Council to consider at its June 23 meeting. The deadline for the City Council to approve a sales tax measure and get it before the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors for the November ballot is July 6.