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Turlockers consider city, county roads tax
roads pic
The city has held three community forums to discuss options for road repair funding. The final public forum is set for June 13 at Pitman High School. - photo by Journal file photo

Final Turlock Community Forum

When: 7 p.m. June 13

Where: Pitman High cafeteria, 2525 W. Christoffersen Parkway

The drive to fix Turlock’s roads with a new city tax is gaining momentum if the latest community forum is any indicator.

About two dozen people attended Thursday night’s meeting at the Turlock Senior Center to address city issues and in particular the options for improving the network of streets and roads in Turlock.

Thursday’s meeting was the third community forum the city has hosted and drew the largest crowd to date.

There has been a general consensus at each forum that Turlock’s roads are in need of repair, but how to pay for the improvements is up for debate.

The city has put forth three tax options and is trying to gauge which has the most support before submitting it for a public vote — if at all.

One funding option raised would be to create a citywide assessment district that would be funded by a parcel tax. According to the city engineering department’s estimate, an average lot would have an assessment fee of about $402 imposed in order to keep the roads in the satisfactory range. This type of funding option could have a negative impact on anyone living on a fixed or lower income.

Another option is to have the parcel tax based on square footage. Director of Development Services and City Engineer Michael Pitcock estimated it would cost property owners about 2 cents per square foot, leaving the average property owner paying around $162 annually. However, this option would hit large landowners, such as ranchers and farmers, particularly hard. Additionally, a California appeals court has ruled that a tiered-tax rate is invalid because the rate is not applied uniformly.

The third option is to increase the sales tax by a half cent, which is estimated to bring in around $5 million. This option has seen the most public support so far, though people would rather see the revenue in a protected fund as opposed to the general fund. If the revenue is to be put into a protected fund and used solely for road maintenance, it would need to be passed by a two-thirds majority. If the tax is just added to the general fund, it would need a 50 percent plus one vote to pass.

“If the money is going into the general fund, then I’m not too excited about that,” said Lee Smith, a co-owner of Smith Chevrolet. “But if it is going into a stipulated fund, then I’m all for it.”

The last Pavement Management survey conducted in Turlock was in 2008 and generated an overall rate of Satisfactory. Thirty-seven percent of the roads were rated as Good and 25 percent were rated as Satisfactory. Another 18 percent were classified as Fair and 20 percent were rated as Poor.

In that same report it was recommended the city would need to spend $144.9 million through 2013 to reach a PCI in the low to mid 80s. To keep Turlock’s streets at the status quo PCI of 59, the report stated the city would need to spend about $9 million annually on repairs and maintenance. That amount has now been adjusted to $10 million. The city currently has about $2 million allocated for roads, with some of that money restricted to only certain projects or areas.

While the city is exploring the idea of a city-wide tax, the Turlock Chamber of Commerce is looking into the option of reviving a county-wide tax.

The Chamber sent letters to area policy makers and Chamber leaders proposing the idea of a county-wide tax. The Chamber will be hosting a private meeting next week to explore the feasibility and support of such a tax.

“It’s really a fact-finding meeting,” Chamber Chief Executive Officer and President Sharon Silva said. “We want information on all the options, so that we don’t make any hasty decisions. However it turns out, we will support the work to clean up our streets.”

The letter, written by Silva and Chamber Chairman Dr. Mike Romeo, questions the impact a city tax would have on economic growth and if it could address large-scale transportation projects.

“Some Stanislaus cities have considered or will consider enactment of a road tax just for their own jurisdictions,” the letter states. “We fear that such approaches will undermine the regional needs of goods movements and economic development since a county-wide effort will require a two-thirds vote and any city that already is taxing itself for this purpose will consider, with some justification, a county-wide measure as a double tax.  Importantly, city specific measures will not address the regional transportation linkages that are essential to well planned infrastructure and economic development.

“No city is big enough to finance on its own the transportation projects necessary for economic growth,” the letter continues. “If we don’t work together, we will have no improvement.”

The last time a county-wide tax was on the ballot in Stanislaus County was in 2008, and it failed by a small margin to reach the two-thirds majority.

While a county-wide tax would put all the cities on an even keel for sales tax, some residents expressed concern Turlock could get short-changed when it comes to allocating the revenue.

“Modesto has some pretty big muscle and every time there’s talk about a county tax all the talk turns to Highway 132,” said Turlock resident Mike Crowell. “It’s all 132, 132 — it will gobble up everything. I want to see a road tax for fixing them, not building them.”

The city will host a final community forum at 7 p.m. June 13 at Pitman High School’s cafeteria, 2525 W. Christoffersen Parkway.