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Council looks at prioritizing Measure A funding
Turlock City Council members said road repair is top on the list of how to spend Measure A sales tax funds in the upcoming fiscal year (Journal file photo).

For the first time ever, Turlock voters approved a citywide sales tax measure with the adoption of Measure A in the November 2020 election. On Thursday, the City coffers will start to benefit from the ¾ cent sales tax measure and the City Council will soon seat a citizen oversight committee and make decisions on how to spend those Measure A dollars in upcoming budget meetings.

The sales tax measure is estimated to provide $11 million in revenue annually to fund City of Turlock services.

Interim City Manager Gary Hampton said that in his opinion the Measure A language is clear on what priorities the voters wanted when it comes to spending the tax dollars: “to maintain local property values and keep Turlock a good place to live, work and raise a family.”

There were eight areas listed in the Measure A ordinance — “protect Turlock’s long-term financial stability, maintain and restore public safety services, rapid 911 emergency and medical response, fire protection, fix streets and potholes, support local businesses, address challenges with homelessness and vagrancy and protect Turlock’s ability to respond to emergencies and natural disasters.”

However, there still leaves the question of what City services or projects will be tackled first.

During the March 9 City Council meeting, each Council member stated their individual priorities when it comes to spending Measure A funds.

Mayor Amy Bublak suggested that the Council look at Measure A funds in a 36-month allocation schedule and consider a percentage for the priorities listed in the sales tax measure ordinance like 60% towards road repair and maintenance and 30% toward filling open positions with an emphasis on public safety.

“I don’t want Measure A to become part of an election; it should never be,” said Mayor Bublak.

Bublak said that if the majority of the Council decided on what percentage of Measure A funds to spend on specific priorities then it would be easier for the citizen oversight committee — a fiscal accountability provision of the ordinance — to hold the Council accountable. Many of the Council agreed with the Mayor’s idea of using percentages to allocate Measure A funds.

“I pulled the ordinance and came up with the eight items promised to the public and we need to make sure those are the only things we pay for with Measure A because that’s what we promised the citizens: If we got that money that’s what we would do. So, that is exactly what I will be insisting on…I agree with the Mayor that we should put out a percentage. I would like to see us put a percentage of it away in our unassigned general fund reserves, possibly as much as 10% per year, until as such time as we have $15 million in our general fund reserves and then we could look at adjusting that amount. I believe that we need to save for that rainy day that we know is going to come at some time. I sure don’t want us to get caught without adequate reserves,” said Vice Mayor Pam Franco.

“Measure A has to be spent the way it was sold to the public. Because too many times in politics we have these motions and these measures and they get passed and the public was told one thing and then the ball is moved and that’s not right. I will absolutely insist that those eight things that are on the list…is what Measure A will be spent on. I agree that percentages are a good thing so that we can stipulate and take the politics out of it because…every time I turn around, I always say this, someone’s trying to stick their hand in the Measure A cookie jar and it’s nothing that’s related and nothing that was listed on the ballot to the voters. And that’s just not right. I don’t have any tolerance for that,” said Council member Rebecka Monez.

Council member Andrew Nosrati said he wants to see the Council front-load investment on roads as much as possible and then look at bringing organizational stability with leadership positions.

“We give the voters what they will be able to see immediately, investments in infrastructure, specifically roads,” said Nosrati.

“I think the opportunities we have here as we look at our financial situation, we have the ability to replenish staffing, revitalize programs and rethink how we address these issues,” said Council member Nicole Larson.

Larson went on to prioritize replenishing staffing levels in public safety, “that means staffing all four fire stations;” programs like the police department’s outreach to those with mental health issues and the activities league with youth; parks and street maintenance; and master planning.

The Council is expected to consider how to allocate Measure A funds in upcoming budget meetings.

March 31 is the last day that Turlock residents can apply to be a member of the Measure A citizen oversight committee.  The application can be found on the City of Turlock website, under the “Government” tab followed by the “Commissions and Committees” tab. The oversight committee will meet on a quarterly basis per fiscal year, with specific meeting dates determined by committee members.  The date for the City Council review of Board applications and subsequent appointments has not been finalized, but is expected to occur the later part of April or early May.  The first quarterly committee meeting would review the first quarter of Measure A tax proceeds and expenditures, covering April – June 2021.