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Council: City road tax for repairs, not transit
Funding of Turlock's bus system will not be included in the citywide transportation tax being placed before voters on the November ballot. - photo by Journal file photo

While there remains uncertainty whether or not the proposed citywide transportation tax being placed before Turlock voters in November will receive adequate support, the tax is guaranteed to be spent on repairs solely and not transit costs if approved, said the City Council on Tuesday.

Councilmember Forrest White opened the discussion on whether or not the proposed half-cent sales tax increase for transportation should be dedicated to roadway repairs and maintenance alone, or also place a portion of the generated funds toward the City’s bus service.

“Transit is important, but we need to keep this tax as clear as possible,” said White. “It should not mix transit into road repairs, which is what we agreed this tax was for. We can deal with transit, and continue to work on it separately.”

With fewer hours and low ridership, Turlock’s bus service has been unable to meet the farebox ratio income required for federal funding, resulting in the City having to cover the costs with General Fund monies. 

Although Turlock resident Pat Noda told the Council that he utilizes the bus system as a primary means of transportation, along with many other Turlock residents not owning vehicles, he said the City needed to improve the bus line’s routes and schedules before spending money from the potential tax on it.

“The bus system should be able to carry its own weight if it has enough people using it,” said Noda. “And if Turlock changed the routing and made improvements, the buses would be filled. But right now, you have to wait 40 minutes at the bus stop. It’s not meeting the needs of this community. Why have a tax that supports a bus system that doesn’t serve the needs of the city?”

Councilmember Steven Nascimento agreed that the City’s bus service could see some improvements, but should not be funded by a tax that the community supported as a self-tax to generate funds for pothole repairs and street maintenance.

“The residents of Turlock have expressed their support for a transportation tax that will make improvements to the conditions of the roadways, including things such as pothole repairs,” said Nascimento. “It doesn’t seem to me that transit is in the purview of this tax.”

Standing for her commitment against new tax increases, Councilwoman Amy Bublak said that she remains in opposition to the citywide half-cent transportation tax.

Noting that “nobody likes having their pocketbooks raided,” Councilmember Bill DeHart countered that voting to place the tax increase on the ballot was not a vote in favor of the tax itself, but instead in favor of providing Turlock citizens with an opportunity.

“Our residents should at least be given the opportunity to vote on whether or not they want to tax themselves for this very specific purpose,” said DeHart.

The City Council ultimately voted 4-1 to move the sales tax increase forward, with the generated funds being solely dedicated to things such as pothole repair, existing city street improvements and general street maintenance.

If approved by voters in November, the tax would raise an estimated $5.6 million per year. Although the tax would have a lifespan of seven years, the City included a provision stating the tax would immediately be terminated should a countywide transportation tax be approved, which the Stanislaus Council of Governments hopes to bring back before County voters in 2016 after abandoning the initiative discussed for this November’s ballot earlier this year.