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Survey to gage interest in new countywide roads tax
roads pic
The Stanislaus Council of Governments will soon be surveying residents in Turlock and around the county on their interest in a sales tax that would go towards fixing cracked roads and other transportation projects. - photo by Journal file photo

The effort to attain funding to fix the county's failing roads will continue as the Stanislaus Council of Governments will once again be polling county residents to assess voter support for a half-cent sales tax to fund road repairs and other transportation needs.

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.

According to StanCOG Executive Director Rosa De Léon Park, the agency is taking a different approach with this new poll.

"StanCOG is interested in hearing what the residents want to see in their communities," said De Léon Park.

She said the poll will survey residents in each community and see what they're willing to support, whether that is a regional  corridor project like those supported in the past, a more local roads project or bringing the Altamont Corridor Express train into the county.

The newest poll results are expected to be presented to the StanCOG Policy Board by October.

According to Mayor Gary Soiseth, Turlock's representative on the StanCOG Policy Board, he would need to see a measure that addresses a few key issues before throwing his support behind it.

"To earn my support, a countywide road measure needs to focus on deferred maintenance costs of our neglected roadways before focusing on new projects, while also guaranteeing iron-clad accountability measures that include local control of every tax dollar spent," said Soiseth.

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.

 "I look forward to working alongside the other 15 StanCOG members to create a spending formula that benefits not only the residents of Turlock, but also the residents of the county and neighboring cities," added Soiseth.

It's not just a countywide tax that voters are having trouble supporting. Turlock put a half-cent sales tax on the November 2014 ballot, Measure B, that would have seen 50 cents of every $100 dollars spent on taxable purchases in the City of Turlock go towards repair of the roads, ultimately generating an estimated $5.6 million per year. While the poor state of the city's roads is a chief complaint of many Turlock residents, the Measure failed to receive the two-thirds vote needed to pass.

In 2013, Nichols Consulting Engineers surveyed Turlock's entire street network. Every street was rated using the Pavement Condition Index (PCI) 0 to 100. Turlock rated a PCI of 67, in the At Risk category and three points away from Good - Excellent. Fifty-four of Turlock's roads were rated as Good to Excellent, 23 percent At Risk, 20 percent Poor and three percent Failed.

Currently, road repairs are funded through assessment districts (maintenance only), Regional Surface Transportation Program funding on a project-by-project basis, 2103 Gas Tax funds and the City's General Fund, which amounts to about $1.25 million a year.

Continuing at the City's current funding levels, city staff estimated pavement conditions would decline to a PCI of 61 in five years and a PCI of 33 in 20 years.