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County ready for new road tax?
Poll shows voter support growing
county road tax
Stanislaus County residents are being asked to weigh in on their support of a countywide road tax. - photo by Journal file photo

 Leaders in Stanislaus County believe they can win enough support for the passage of a half-cent sales tax for roads next year despite a polling survey that shows it being short of the required 66.6 percent plus one vote.

Before the Stanislaus Council of Governments officials make a final decision on Jan. 20 on a third try for passage, members of the public will be asked to weigh in before a spending plan is reviewed on Dec. 16.

It’s estimated that a half-cent sales tax would generate $970 million over a 25-year period.

During an October phone survey, Godbe Research determined that sup­port has grown in favor of a special 20-year tax, which would be spent on repairing roads, building new ones, and setting aside some for the Altamont Corridor Express train. A voter sampling in March 2014 indicated 61 percent support, which deemed insurmountable and election plans were abandoned. The survey taken last month indicated 64 percent of likely voters would vote for a measure raising taxes on sales in the county.

StanCOG opted against pursuing its third attempt at a countywide trans­portation tax for the November 2014 ballot, an initiative that failed by a narrow margin in both 2006 and 2008 general elections. The agency had discussed bringing the countywide transportation tax to voters in 2014, even going as far as to provide an expenditure plan that was reviewed by the city councils from each of the county’s nine jurisdictions. However, the agency pulled the initiative after a countywide poll revealed that the item was unlikely to garner the necessary two-thirds approval for it to pass.

Officials believe the measure has a better chance of passing during the presidential election of 2016 as presi­dential elections tend to draw more voters who tend to have less cynical views on taxes.

StanCOG Executive Director Rosa De Léon Park said StanCOG is inter­ested in hearing what the residents want to see in their communities. Input will be weighed against which projects would help win passage.

There is an incentive for the county to put another tax on the ballot. If voters passed a road tax, it would desig­nate Stanislaus as a “self-help” county. This designa­tion would allow the region to access additional state-level transportation dollars, match­ing regional investment in roads nearly dollar for dollar.

Mayor Gary Soiseth, Turlock's representative on the StanCOG board, traveled to Southern California this week to attend the Focus  on the Future Conference, a forum for self-help counties.

Soiseth said that the conference was extremely informative and he had great conversations with representatives from communities who have learned how to leverage local funds to receive more state transportation funding.

"I'm very optimistic," said Soiseth about the possibility of Stanislaus County becoming a self-help county.

Soiseth said his support of a countywide road tax depends primarily on a funding formula that benefits Turlock and addresses issues such as fixing current roads, connectivity, funding for disadvantaged communities and installing sidewalks on county islands.

Turlock voters failed to pass a citywide half cent sales tax in 2014 that would have generated an estimated $5.6 million per year for seven years for road repair and maintenance.

— Kristina Hacker contributed to this report.