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Supervisors to revisit costly Veterans Memorial District ballot measure
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A controversial measure to establish a Veterans Memorial District in Stanislaus County that the county supervisors voted 3-2 this week to place on the June 5 ballot will be revisited in a special meeting on Tuesday.

The special meeting was scheduled after the supervisors received a letter written by local veterans. In the letter, the veterans write that they understand the creation of a Veterans Memorial District would be a financial burden on the county, and instead request the Board of Supervisors form a local Veterans Commission.

Veterans Memorial Districts, allowed by state law, are governmental bodies dedicated to collecting money for the purchase, construction, and maintenance of memorial halls and gathering places for veterans' use.

But until the district starts collecting funding, Stanislaus County will be left picking up the tab for all of the district's expenses – from legal costs to countywide elections to nominate board members. Those elections would cost the already deficit-ridden county as much as $225,000 every two years.

“We can't pay for all these special elections,” said County Supervisor Bill O'Brien. “We just don't have the money.”

If created, the district would be able to collect an assessment on county property owners' annual taxes, not to exceed three-tenths of one percent. But that tax would require a second ballot measure, requiring approval from two-thirds of county voters – an unlikely measure to find approval.

Despite concerns over costs, a 3-2 majority of county supervisors on Tuesday agreed to place the measure on the June 5 ballot, with Vito Chiesa and Terry Withrow opposing.

Withrow, an accountant, argued that the veterans group, already a registered non-profit, was capable of operating memorial halls. He also offered county-owned buildings to veterans groups to meet in at no cost.

“I know you don't want a lot of county money,” Withrow said. “I know you just want a facility.”

Those in favor argued that the veterans pursuing the district's creation had followed county direction since 2005, collecting scores of signatures to reach the ballot, and that it seemed unfair to deny them putting the question before county voters.

“They followed our instructions,” said Supervisor Dick Monteith, the sole member of the Board of Supervisors wholly in favor of the measure. “We said this is how we want you to do it, and they did it. I don't want to get it confused.”

But even Supervisors O'Brien and Jim DeMartini, who ultimately voted for the measure, expressed reservations. DeMartini was unsure of the need for such meeting halls, given the numerous veteran groups which own buildings around Stanislaus County.

“I think we should have been on top of this more,” DeMartini said. “There's certainly an enormous cost to the county do this... It's never been clear to me where these additional facilities are needed.

“I'll go ahead and put this on the ballot, but there are a lot of unanswered questions about this.”

County officials scheduled a special Board of Supervisors meeting for 9 a.m. Tuesday to reconsider the measure.