We don't really know what 2013 will hold, of course, but there are some serious subjects that inevitably will be up for debate in our region. So we join the many new year list-makers and offer a forecast of issues that await local elected leaders and citizens:
1. Taxes. A special election is scheduled March 5 in Atwater on a half-cent increase in the sales tax. Atwater's leaders got their city in serious trouble by failing to deal with mounting financial troubles over the last several years. Voters are being asked to approve the special tax for 10 years.
We fully anticipate there will be more tax proposals, especially if the Democratically-controlled Legislature modifies what kind of voter approval is required to pass tax increases. In Modesto, there's a review under way about how to improve public safety and the possible solutions include a sales tax for police and fire. And Turlock city manager Roy Wasden plans to go to his council with a proposal for a city road tax. Meanwhile, there's early talk among Stanislaus County leaders for a countywide sales tax for roads.
2. Water. This issue gets a standing place on the yearly agenda, despite the fact that the snow survey promises it will be a good year for runoff. Consider: The Modesto Irrigation District has an advisory committee reviewing how to pay for major upgrades to its aging irrigation system; its report is expected next spring. The Oakdale Irrigation District expects to continue talks with San Francisco, which wants to buy water. As we wrote Sunday, Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors likely will consider a proposed ordinance to restrict water exports. The Merced Irrigation District is still pushing plans to enlarge the storage capacity of Lake McClure. The House of Representative approved legislation last year; now it goes to the Senate.
3. Growth limits. One of the least noticed decisions of 2012 came out of the Stanislaus Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo), which decided that before they can annex new areas, cities must adopt a farmland preservation program. Either they must include ag land mitigation measures meaning that developers must arrange for or pay to establish conservative easements to keep farmland in farming or they must adopt urban growth boundaries that voters have a chance to approve. Hughson Mayor Matt Beekman writes about the urban growth boundaries in his essay on the adjoining page.
Mayor Garrad Marsh said the ag land mitigation measure could be up for discussion by the Modesto City Council later this month.
Obviously there's little pressure from developers to build now, but the nine cities are under the gun to identify how they will guide growth once the economy does improve.
4. New leadership. Yes, we have elections every year, but 2013 promises to be especially interesting in Modesto, where there will be elections for the City Council (three seats those of Stephanie Burnside, David Geer and Joe Muratore); City Schools board (five seats); and the MID (three seats). Furthermore, school board elections are in odd years, and we have to believe there will be some challengers in districts such as Denair and Riverbank, which have persistent financial troubles.
California State University, Stanislaus, is expected to have a permanent president by midyear.
5. Health care. Many of the key elements of the Affordable Care Act aka Obamacare become effective in 2013 and 2014, and they are expected to have a big impact here in the valley, where so many people are uninsured and where there already are too few physicians.
Stanislaus County is pursuing becoming one of three call centers for the state health care exchange, which could result in a couple of hundred new jobs.
6. Salida. A consultant's report is due shortly on the financial implications of annexation for Stanislaus County, which currently provides services to this unincorporated community, and to the city of Modesto, which might annex the town of roughly 14,000 people. A few Salidans already are rallying against annexation, without the benefit of some useful information as to cost or whether Modesto is really interested in assuming responsibility for that large area.
We think it's wise that a committee of Modesto, Salida and county representatives has been formed to present the results at community meetings. If annexation is pursued, it's likely to take more than a year, but by the end of 2013, there should be a better sense of whether it will or won't happen.