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Support grows in Turlock for countywide road tax
Measure L pic
Reconstructing West Main Street is one of the priority projects for Turlock, should voters approve the countywide road tax. - photo by Journal file photo

Voters in Stanislaus County will once again have a chance to pass a half-cent sales tax that will go towards fixing local roadways. Measure L — Local Roads First Transportation Funding — proposed by the Stanislaus Council of Governments, is a 25-year half-cent sales tax with an expenditure plan on how funds will be used to pay for countywide local street and road improvements, arterial street widening, signalization, pedestrian, bicyclist and driver safety. The road tax is expected to bring in $960 million or approximately $38 million per year.

Turlock Mayor Gary Soiseth, who is Turlock's representative on the StanCOG Board, has been a consistent advocate for the countywide road tax.

"We need this initiative. Turlock's roads are failing," said Soiseth during his annual State of the City address back in January. "There will be no bait-and-switch of funds, and there will be a firm commitment to 'fix it first' before new roads are constructed," he continued.

The Mayor has also been involved in creating the educational outreach about Measure L and earlier this month the City Council heard a presentation on the details of the Measure.

For Turlock, the road tax is expected to provide a lifetime total of $138 million and:

·        -  $3 million annually for street improvements;

·        -  $1.6 million annually for regional significant projects;

·       -   $586,000 annually for traffic management;

·        -  $293,000 annually for bikes and pedestrians;

·         - $43,000 annually for transit.

If adopted, the City of Turlock plans to tackle arterial road projects first (West Main Street, East Avenue and Golden State Boulevard), followed by collector roads (Linwood Avenue, Hedstrom Road and Del’s Lane) and then local streets.

"We're looking at a six times increase on the amount of work we can do," said Mike Pitcock, City of Turlock Director of Development Services and City Engineer.

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.

Support of the countywide road tax was one of the questions asked of City Council candidates in a recent forum hosted by the League of Women Voters.

Three of the five candidates — Gil Esquer and Jaime Franco (both for District 2) and Steven Nascimento (District 4) — were all in favor of the tax.

"We need all the help we can get and Measure L would help start that...If you've driven District 2 you'll see that some of the roads have deteriorated so badly they can't be repaired, they need to be replaced — and that costs more money," said Esquer.

District 4 candidate Donald Babadalir, on the other hand, said he was adamantly opposed to the tax.

"The answer is absolutely no. We currently already have several taxes in place. We have a city tax. We have a county tax. We have a state tax. We have a federal tax. We have DMV taxes. We have tire taxes. Now you want to add another tax on top of all of that to do something that was supposed to be done with all those other taxes and was never achieved. So, at what point is it going to stop?" said Babadalir.

District 4 candidate and current Vice Mayor Amy Bublak said that she wasn't supportive of the road tax at first, but changed her stance once the Turlock City Council approved allocating $100,000 of City funds for road repair — an amount that the City  would be required to fund annually for the next 25 years, should Measure L pass.

"I did not support (Measure L).  I was the only elected official out of 52 elected officials in the county to not support Measure L and the reason is that I'm fiercely supportive of the tax payer and before I'm going to ask a tax payer, Turlock citizen, for more money and tell them we do not have enough money, I have to be allocating money toward that — not for potholes but truly for roadways," said Bublak.

This will be StanCOG's third attempt at getting a road tax approved, as two similar initiatives failed by a narrow margin in both 2006 and 2008 general elections.