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Council balks at putting road tax on November ballot
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Turlock's streets are in poor condition, but a new, dedicated tax to improve those roads likely won't come until 2014 at the earliest, city council members said Tuesday night.
"I think in our general economic climate and the prevailing distrust of government, we're going to be hard-pressed to put something on a ballot that people are going to respond to favorably," said Councilmember Bill DeHart.
The possibility of a new street-specific tax first arose at an April 10 special meeting of council, where council members learned they must spend $10 million annually just to maintain streets at current rates; today, Turlock spends only $1.7 million.
Turlock lacks the revenues to spend more on roads at this time, leading the city to consider implementing a new tax. Such a tax would require the approval of two-thirds of Turlock voters, likely on the November 2012 or November 2014 ballot.
But first, advisors suggested council conduct a survey to see if Turlockers would support a roads tax. That survey could cost between $10,000 and $20,000, city staff said - an amount Councilmember Amy Bublak considered a waste, given the lack of time to conduct a marketing campaign before November 2012 and the general economic climate.
"I'm opposed to it," Bublak said. "I'm opposed to spending a dollar on a survey we can't really react to at this time."
Mayor John Lazar was the sole member of council to endorse putting a roads tax on the ballot. Lazar said it would fulfill a campaign promise, and let Turlockers choose to improve their own quality of life.
"It's something I'm willing to expend political capitol for," Lazar said. "I'm willing to put it on the ballot and let the citizens decide"
Staff expects to return to council at the May 22 meeting with more details regarding the true costs of a survey, and the potential of partnering with California State University, Stanislaus to conduct a survey at a lower cost. Council will also consider dedicating some of its reserve funding to road repairs, as a show of dedication to improving roads, or pursuing a countywide road tax.
Turlock council members did take one step toward a potential road tax on Tuesday by unanimously endorsing a pending California Constitutional amendment, which would lower the voter threshold from 66 percent to 55 percent to approve new road taxes.


On Tuesday, the Turlock City Council also:
• Issued proclamations in honor of the Light of Christ Lutheran Church's 100th anniversary, and the 140th anniversary of Arbor Day.
• Heard a presentation on a planned charity basketball game, where Meadowlark Lemon and the Harlem All-Stars were to face off against members of the Turlock City Council and other local notables.
Though Lemon attended the council meeting to promote the event, the game has since been postponed indefinitely.
• Began the process to repeal a section of Turlock Municipal Code which bars persons from attempting to solicit employment, business, or contributions from occupants of a vehicle. In September 2011, a federal appeals court ruled that such measures are unconstitutional, as they restrict freedom of speech.
The ordinance change will return for a final reading on May 8.