Turlock residents will likely see a citywide tax initiative on their ballots this November, as the City Council begins the process of creating an alternative to the countywide transportation tax recently abandoned by the Stanislaus Council of Governments that would have generated millions for local roadway repairs.
Although the countywide transportation tax is no longer a possibility for county voters, many of the Turlock City Council members believe that Turlock residents would still vote in support of a Turlock-only transportation tax dedicated to making improvements to the city’s “at-risk” roadway system.
“We began discussing this months ago, but we agreed to put it on hold and let StanCOG move forward with the countywide tax. They did a survey and found there was not countywide approval,” said Councilman Forrest White about a Turlock-only road tax. “Roads have always been one of our biggest issues, along with water, because a quality city needs something more than below average roads that are only getting worse. It’s something we need to look at, and something that we should at least let the people vote on.”
Agreeing with White, Councilmember Steven Nascimento said that although a countywide transportation tax did not get approved by Stanislaus voters in 2008, the majority of the votes from Turlock showed favor for a local transportation tax being implemented to generate funds dedicated to roadway repairs.
“I think 68 percent of Turlock residents say they would support the tax,” said Nascimento. “And when 68 percent of a population says this is something that we want, then we owe it to them to give that opportunity.”
Although most of the council members agreed that Turlock residents should be given the opportunity to vote either against or for the self-tax, Councilman Bill DeHart says that the city also needs to dedicate a portion of city funds to annual roadway repairs to help gain public trust.
“We’re not going to solve the problem without doing something drastic,” said DeHart. “We should provide an opportunity for folks to say yes or no to a provision to retain some level of funding through a tax to improve roads. But there should also be a provision within our own budget dedicated to roads. Even if it is just $100,000 set aside each year to roads, which isn’t much for road repairs, it would still be symbolic to be able to say that it's in our budget, and I think would gain the trust of Turlock residents.”
Since being elected to the City Council, Nascimento says that he has heard many complaints of Turlock’s road conditions, in addition to trying to find space within the city budget to dedicate towards fixing deteriorated streets.
“There’s just no room in the city’s General Fund budget to go towards roads without having to layoff police, fire, administration or city staff,” said Nascimento. “Right now, about 87 percent of the general fund goes toward public safety. And I think the majority would agree that it is appropriate to prioritize our safety instead of roads, and not say to fire five police officers in order to pave one mile of road – it is that expensive to do.”
In a 4-1 vote, with Councilwoman Amy Bublak voting “no”, the City Council voted in favor of moving forward with possibly adding a city road tax initiative to the November ballot.
With the approval, City Attorney Phaedra Norton says that will bring an ordinance before the Council within the coming weeks, which is expected to call on a special tax for city roads for at least seven years while also forming an oversight committee. Additionally, Norton says that the ordinance would include a provision allowing the tax to be amended or changed at any time, in addition to being automatically repealed should a countywide transportation tax ever be approved by voters in Stanislaus County.