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Council reflects on 2013; looks toward water in 2014
Regional versus city road tax talks to continue in new year
Monte Vista roads
Many City Council members predict that roadway improvements will continue to be a hot topic throughout 2014. The improvements being made to Monte Vista Avenue, between Crowell and Geer Roads, are expected to be complete within the coming months. - photo by CARA HALLAM / The Journal

As the Turlock City Council heads into 2014, the general consensus is to keep a strong focus on water.

The council – which has been in negotiation talks with the cities of Ceres and Modesto alongside the Turlock Irrigation District regarding a Regional Surface Water Supply project – has kept a close eye on the diminishing water supply in Turlock and the surrounding region. During the Dec. 10, 2013 council meeting, council members discussed the possibility of increasing water rates over the next five years that would see six rate increases for Turlock residents.

“The biggest issue in 2014 will be water,” said Councilmember Forrest White, who sits on two different committees for surface and recycled water projects. “It’s a big issue and is going to be at the forefront, especially if we continue with the lack of rain…It’s going to get harder and harder with less of a resource, so we need to determine, how do we find new resources?”

White shared that although the City is in continued negotiations with stakeholder groups on the Regional Surface Water Supply project – which he hopes will be culminated this year – an agreement would still place the project five years down the road.

“Since it will still be five years or so until we get a plant going, conservation of water will be key,” said White. “It’s a good idea to make water a real priority. Bumpy roads and potholes are not good either, but you can survive. With water, you have to have an adequate drinking water supply. And if industry is going to survive, you need an adequate water and sewer capacity for them.”

With the City continuing to bring in new industries to the Turlock Regional Industrial Park, White hopes that the anticipated industrial growth in 2014 will have a positive impact on the city’s roadway and water systems.

“It’s going to be dictated by our industrial growth, which will hopefully help everybody,” said White. “If you want to do roads and make improvements in the water, there’s a cost associated with that…We’re in a good growth mode, and better off than a lot of cities. We’ve got the industrial space that people are looking for, which many other cities do not. I really believe that a good economy is going to mean a more positive attitude with the public, and that would lead to them looking for more improved services, and maybe be willing to pay a little bit more for roads or vote on a road tax. A better economy means a better budget, which allows us to address issues like water and roads.”

Councilmember Bill DeHart echoed White’s growing concern with water, stressing the importance of receiving input from the County and various water organizations to help resolve the region’s water problems.

“[The water concern] is far more than agricultural at this point,” said DeHart. “We’re talking about drinking water here in town. “

Reflecting on the improved business development in 2013, DeHart says that he expects continued economic growth within Turlock in 2014.

“There are a lot of things in the works with respect to Monte Vista Crossing, with the Phase 2 of that project,” said DeHart. “There are also quite a number of backfill projects taking place, and a lot of permitting going on, so we’ll continue to see growth throughout the year including more development in the northeast corner.”

Various legislative efforts taking place in Sacramento will have an effect on Turlock as well, said DeHart, as the City continues its partnership with the League of California Cities while keeping a close watch on state developments.

“We need to keep our eyes and ears to the ground with policy,” said DeHart. “They all have some sort of impact on the economic stability of our town and region as well…We have a lot of pokers in the fire, but it is all a function of what the people want. If there is a valuable idea out there, we’re willing to hear it. We don’t have all the answers. We think we have a good feel of what the community wants, but it’s really about what they want us to do and we’re always open to input. Maintaining and improving the quality of life here in Turlock needs to continue to be our priority.”

Council members Steven Nascimento and Amy Bublak both pinpointed roads and water as key issues for the Council in 2014, as both discussed proposed fee increases and tax measures to address growing concerns.

“In Turlock, 2013 was about maintaining our services with generous employees who gave us concessions to assist us in sustaining our financial needs,” said Bublak. “2014 will be a year of proposed fee increases and suggested tax measures to address water, public safety and roadway issues. It is my hope that as these topics arise, the citizens voice their opinions through council members or at the meetings so that the best decisions are made for Turlock.”

In regards to a potential tax measure for roadway improvements, Nascimento said that he believes a regional approach would be best, however, a city-wide tax should still be considered. Mayor John Lazar also shared that the City will continue to have discussions with the Stanislaus County Council of Governments – the regional transportation planning agency – to determine how Turlock will proceed with the conditions of the roadways.

“There are ongoing discussions at the county level of a potential county tax measure, and the City is still entertaining the idea of moving forward with a Turlock-only self-tax measure,” said Nascimento. “Depending on how those conversations go, that’s something that we’ll continue in 2014. A regional approach is preferable, but if we don’t do so on a regional level, the council will have to decide whether we move forward as a community.”   

As the council members reflected on 2013, all could agree that the economy continued to improve, yet still has room for growth.

“Our economy has improved, and Turlock has continued to be a bright spot in the Central Valley in terms of economic recovery,” said Mayor Lazar. “Although we have a long way to go in terms of fully healing, I think that creating the Mayor’s Economic Development Task Force was a great start, and I look forward to continue working with them in 2014 for new opportunities in bringing business to Turlock. We have some great prospects coming to City Hall, talking to city staff. This will be a good year for Turlock economically.”

Although Mayor Lazar noted the improvements in the downtown area, Geer Road and Monte Vista Crossings as signs of continued development and growth and a recovering economy, he shared concerns regarding public safety realignment and the impacts it continues to have on the region as counties become responsible for housing low-level state prison inmates in local county jails.

“I still have concerns with realignment, but I have every confidence in our sheriff to manage properly with prison space,” said Mayor Lazar. “It’s a concern locally because we have seen a higher criminal element because of it. As a City, we’re calling on the Turlock Police Department and residents to be vigilant of that, with programs such as Neighborhood Watch, so that we can know where to place our resources and what areas might need increased surveillance.”

Both Mayor Lazar and Councilmember White recognized and expressed their appreciation for the efforts of the Turlock Gospel Mission, as the non-profit organization prepares to construct a multi-bed homeless shelter in 2014.

“I’m very encouraged by the Turlock Gospel Mission, and their efforts to help our homeless population,” said Mayor Lazar. “They continue to make strides with the help of We Care and other organizations, and it is encouraging to see.”

With the opening of the new Public Safety facility in 2013, Mayor Lazar says that public safety will continue to be a top priority in 2014.

“Opening our public safety facility was a great opportunity for the downtown, the Westside, and public safety in Turlock in general,” said Mayor Lazar. “It’s great for the region, not only for Turlock.”

As Council members Nascimento and White shared, the City is hopeful to announce new businesses and retailers in 2014, as city staff work to land new industries while continuing to work diligently on issuing new business permits. 

“We have a great community,” said Mayor Lazar. “I’m so thankful to be able to serve as Mayor and preside over this, in my view, prosperity...It’s been really exciting.”