Stanislaus County taxpayers should be happy to hear that a special sales tax review of Measure L found that government agencies are using the funds for exactly what they were intended for — fixing and maintaining local roadways.
Measure L — Local Roads First Transportation Funding — was approved by voters in November 2016 and went into effect April 1, 2017. The 25-year one-half cent special sales tax is to be used exclusively for regional and local transportation, as well as other transit improvements.
The Stanislaus County Civil Grand Jury recently conducted an investigation of Measure L after reading about concerns regarding the use of the special tax dollars.
“Taxpayers often question if government decision-making exists for the benefit of the public; the SCCGJ wondered the same,” states the sales tax review summary.
The grand jury focused its investigation on the Stanislaus Council of Governments (the agency that administers Measure L funds) and three local jurisdictions, including Turlock.
The grand jury’s overall findings were that both StanCOG and local jurisdictions are implementing Measure L as promised to Stanislaus County residents.
“The Stanislaus County Council of Governments is to be commended for the development of a transportation special tax program of which StanCOG, and all of Stanislaus County, can be proud. Measure L is an efficient program that operates like a well-oiled machine and constitutes an important economic benefit to the county,” states the report.
Stanislaus County Supervisor and StanCOG Board member Vito Chiesa has been an advocate for Measure L from the start, as it allows Stanislaus to be designated a Self-Help county when competing for state and federal transportation funding opportunities.
“Seventy-two percent of people wanted their roads fixed, coming in many different forms, but most important was our ability to leverage state and federal funding that we didn’t have before — that’s more than $50 million since its inception,” said Chiesa.
Turlock, which is allocated 15.26 percent of Measure L funds, received $4,386,697 in fiscal year 2017-18. Measure L funds are being used for the reconstruction project currently underway along West Main Street and for the design stage of the Golden State Boulevard rehabilitation project.
While the grand jury found that Measure L funds were being used appropriately, they did have two recommendations for Turlock.
Planning and engineering representatives who were interviewed from Turlock lacked detailed knowledge of Measure L financing and relied on finance departments for information. The grand jury recommends that the personnel managing the planning and engineering of Measure L projects be familiar with the budget and finance portions of the special tax.
The City of Turlock also needs to fulfill a Measure L requirement of posting project progress on a webpage for public transparency. The grand jury gave Turlock until Dec. 31 to create a webpage or a link to a department webpage with the required information.
The Civil Grand Jury is empowered to investigate complaints from citizens, civic groups, government employees and others about the operations of county and city governments and the conduct of their officers and employees. The Civil Grand Jury may also investigate complaints within special districts and school districts.