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New taxes needed to maintain roads, says city
Turlock would have to spend $10 million annually just to prevent further road decay; currently, Turlock spends only about $1.7 million annually, with no additional funding in sight. - photo by Journal file photo

The City of Turlock may ask citizens to support new taxes on the November ballot, dedicated to repairing the city’s dilapidated roadways.

The potential initiative arose at a special Turlock City Council workshop on Tuesday, where council discussed the massive costs to mend and maintain the city’s streets.

“We are currently not investing enough money in our road network to maintain or improve our streets,” said City Engineer Mike Pitcock.

Turlock would have to spend $10 million annually just to prevent further road decay; currently, Turlock spends only about $1.7 million annually, with no additional funding in sight.

A 2008 assessment indicated Turlock’s streets averaged a 59 on a 100 point scale – satisfactory, but below the 80 point value assessors indicated as a target. To bring Turlock’s streets to an 80 point level would cost about $92 million today, the 2008 report said, plus about $5 million annually.

Maintaining streets at their current dilapidated level would cost more per year – about $10 million annually – but would do without the initial $92 million charge. In large part, that’s because maintaining slightly-used asphalt is much less expensive than repairing bumpy streets.

“You’ve got to keep your roads from getting to the next level,” Pitcock said. “The costs go up exponentially.”

To repair Monte Vista Avenue between Crowell Road and Geer Road would cost only about $182,000, if the pavement was better maintained, said city staff. An asphalt overlay – the needed repair – will cost $864,000. And should the condition deteriorate to a point necessitating total reconstruction, costs skyrocket to $2.1 million.

Turlock only receives about $1.1 million of the $12 million in gas tax revenue collected in Turlock, with much of that devoted only to safety work like pothole repairs and road striping. A further, $1.5 million in state and federal grants provides Turlock’s only discretionary road spending.

“Clearly the taxes paid, at $12 million, would take care of all of our roads, but those taxes don’t stay in the local community,” City Manager Roy Wasden said.

Newer areas of towns have Benefit Assessment Districts, where property owners pay annual fees to maintain their roads. That’s why newer parts of Turlock often see roads in good condition resurfaced, while older roads languish.


Taxes could maintain streets

Staff set out three options to generate enough revenues to maintain Turlock’s streets – not improve, simply maintain.

Turlock could pursue a city-wide benefit assessment district, or a per-parcel tax. Such a tax would see each lot pay an average of $402 in taxes annually. That could be applied across the board, or weighted by property size; 10 acre properties could pay as much as $9,400 per year in assessments if weighted by parcel size.

A new half-cent sales tax, preferred by Pitcock, would generate about $5 million annually, and could also qualify Turlock to apply for additional state funding. Currently, most state and federal grants are reserved for “self-help” municipalities, which tax themselves for road improvements.

“We’re talking about millions and millions of state and federal dollars,” said Councilwoman Mary Jackson. “… We’re giving it to other communities.”

Stanislaus County pursued a countywide transportation tax in 2008, with the measure failing by fewer than 300 votes.

To pass its own transportation-specific tax, Turlock would need a two-thirds majority of voters – a figure which may fall to 55 percent, with a pending bill in the state legislature.

Turlock could instead pass a general purpose tax, with revenues going to the General Fund for later reapportionment, with a majority vote. But that tax would likely not qualify Turlock as a “self-help” municipality, said consultant Jennifer West.

Toby Wells, Ceres city engineer, and a Turlock resident, spoke in favor of a sales tax as the only way to address Turlock’s failing roadways.

“The bottom line is, if we don't help ourselves, we're never going to get the money,” Wells said. “It's that simple.”


General Fund support another option

A final option could see Turlock instead contribute funding from its General Fund budget – the discretionary sales tax dollars collected by Turlock.

The idea presents its own problems, as Turlock’s general fund budget has already been stretched thin with declining tax revenues. And the move would potentially fail to qualify Turlock as a “self-help” municipality.

Former Turlock City Council candidate David “DJ” Fransen, though, said that spending General Fund dollars on streets would indicate that street repair is a priority. Had council devoted small amounts in the past, he said, today’s bill would be much smaller.

Current Turlock City Council candidate Sergio Alvarado also derided the council’s past decisions to spend no General Fund dollars on road maintenance

“To see that we spend zero dollars on public transportation is crazy,” Alvarado said. “We have 70,000 people here. We deserve better roads.”

Turlock City Councilman Forrest White also questioned why Turlock had not contributed to roads from the General Fund. He asked city staff to further examine if Turlock could potentially qualify as a self-help city, should it use General Fund dollars on roads.

“I think we’re way behind self-help. We should have been self-helping ourselves for the last 20 years, and I don’t mean with a tax,” White said. “… At what point do we say, we just don’t accept it anymore?”

The Turlock City Council is expected to further discuss a potential tax initiative at their April 24 meeting. According to West, the next step would likely be a $9,000-$15,000 survey of local residents to determine support for a new tax.