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Council talks road tax details for upcoming vote
Monte Vista roads
Constructed to the standards and conditions of the early mid-20th century, many Turlock streets are no longer able to meet todays traffic standards, often creating safety concerns for drivers and pedestrians. - photo by Journal file photo

Following years of neglect, the poor conditions marking Turlock’s roadways – such as cracked pavement, dangerous potholes and deteriorated sidewalks – could soon be a problem of the past should the City Council decide to place a long-awaited citywide transportation tax on the November ballot.

Constructed to the standards and conditions of the early mid-20th century, many Turlock streets are no longer able to meet today’s traffic standards, often creating safety concerns for drivers and pedestrians. Without a dime of the City’s General Fund being dedicated towards the construction, replacement, repair and maintenance of Turlock’s roadway system, City officials and staff have relied on competitive Federal and State grants and transportation monies to fund any necessary improvements to its existing infrastructure.

With many cities and counties throughout the state adopting various tax measures to help gain funds for costly transportation and infrastructure improvements, the Turlock City Council began discussing placing a similar initiative before Turlock voters this November after the Stanislaus County Council of Governments – the regional transportation planning agency – recently opted against pursuing its third attempt at a countywide transportation tax.

On Tuesday, Turlock councilmembers voted 4-1 to direct City staff to prepare an official resolution for the proposed half-cent sales tax measure that is slated to return for approval on May 27.

 Despite Councilwoman Amy Bublak’s vote in opposition due to her stance against tax increases, she agreed with other council members that Turlock residents had the right to vote on the issue. However, in light of the City’s recently proposed water rate increases, Bublak questioned whether the transportation initiative should be considered during the same year.

“We have three problems in this city: roads, water and crime. And you’re going to put two of those on the same ballot,” said Bublak, suggesting that the initiative be postponed.

Arguing that the at-risk conditions of Turlock’s roadways could no longer be neglected and improvements continually postponed, Councilmember Steven Nascimento said that he believes Turlock residents would vote in favor of the half-cent sales tax measure if it meant improved road conditions.

“We need to at least give our community the opportunity to vote on this measure that has been requested consistently over recent years at every public forum, and multiple Council meetings,” said Nascimento. “I think we can all agree that it is something that needs to be done, and that we can’t postpone any longer.”

Agreeing with Nascimento, Councilmember Bill DeHart discussed the possibility of the City adding a portion of its own General Funds to roadway and infrastructure improvements as a sign of “good stewardship” to Turlock residents – a suggestion Nascimento and other council members said would behoove the City by taking on the costs of repairing roadways before asking Turlock residents to.

“To be quite frank, we can learn from the City of Modesto’s attempt to make their measure all encompassing,” said Councilmember Forrest White. “We need to prove to Turlock residents that we are good stewards of their money if we want to pass this tax.”

To guarantee that the initiative’s generated funds are being spent only on Turlock roadways, the proposed seven-year half-cent sales tax measure would include an annual financial audit in addition to establishing a five-member Citizen Oversight Committee appointed by the Council to ensure the proper use of funds. Each year, an Annual Report will be prepared by City staff, reviewed by the committee and presented to the City Council, reviewing on expenditures and activities during the past fiscal year.

According to City staff, the sales tax initiative, also known as the “Pothole Repair, Existing City Street Improvement and Maintenance, and Transit Farebox Recovery Ratio Assistance Expenditure Plan,” is estimated to generate approximately $5.6 million per year, of $39.2 million over its seven year lifespan.

Not only providing the repair and maintenance of existing City streets, sidewalks, curbs, ramps, crosswalks, lane lines, pedestrian improvements,  bicycle lane striping and necessary pavement improvements , the new sales tax would also provide limited transit farebox support.

Although scheduled to terminate after seven years, the Council included a provision that would automatically cease the citywide tax should a countywide transportation measure be approved, or with a two-thirds vote of the City Council.

City engineer Mike Pitcock told council members on Tuesday that he is currently preparing an expenditure plan, listing by city quadrants the roads that would be improved during the life of the measure if approved by voters.

Being brought back for discussion on May 27, the proposed half-cent citywide sales tax is expected to be adopted by the Council by early June.