SALIDA — Stanislaus County Supervisor Terry Withrow announced Friday that he will oppose Modesto Mayor Garrad Marsh's proposal for the city to annex Salida.
Withrow's decision came three days after the Salida Municipal Advisory Council voted 4-0 against the idea of annexation. Salida residents in the unincorporated community of 13,700 have been passionately opposed since Marsh broached annexation last year.
Withrow, who represents the area on the county Board of Supervisors, has avoided being pinned down on his position as a series of town hall meetings was held and a financial study was conducted.
"Now that the MAC is officially against it, I don't really have a choice," Withrow said. "I can see their (Salida residents') point; they want to incorporate. I didn't realize the deep-felt feelings against Modesto."
Withrow revealed his position Friday morning at a Salida Rotary Club meeting. He said he has spoken with Modesto Councilman Dave Cogdill and that he later talked with Marsh about his decision.
Salida has more people than three cities in Stanislaus County: Waterford, Newman and Hughson. But it faces a financial barrier to incorporation because it doesn't have a broad commercial base to generate taxes to pay for city services.
What it does have is proximity to Highway 99 and a chunk of available land that is envisioned for business parks that could employ as many as 15,000 people. That has been the lure for Marsh and Modesto, which would be needed to extend water services.
Must present report findings
Marsh said he understood that Withrow needed to listen to his constituents, but that it was too early to make any decisions because the facts need to be presented to Salida residents. Officials have said Salida has three options: stay with county governance, become part of Modesto or incorporate as a city.
"I truly believe they need to be a city," Marsh said. "I think the worst of the three options is to stay part of the county."
Withrow said he wants to carry through with the process of presenting the findings of a $60,000 fiscal study to Salida residents. He said an ad hoc committee will meet Marsh 28 to review the study findings and talk about how to present information at town hall meetings in Salida.
County opposition would make it difficult, but not impossible, for Modesto to annex the Salida area. Ultimately, the annexation would go before the Local Agency Formation Commission, which would require the city and county to have a tax-sharing agreement.
Withrow said he believes other county supervisors will agree with his position.
"If he is opposed to it, if that is his stance, I am probably going to back him up on it," said Vito Chiesa, Board of Supervisors chairman.
Chiesa said the Salida MAC's opinion also carries weight because "they are our eyes and ears on the ground."
Withrow acknowledged he was involved with initial discussions that led to exploring an annexation proposal. Just before he was elected in 2010, Withrow said, budget problems resulted in closing the sheriff's substation in Salida and he questioned the county's ability to maintain adequate services for residents.
But the level of opposition to annexation became clear to him when the idea was discussed at Salida advisory council meetings in recent months, he said.
Advisory council member Katherine Borges said Withrow's announcement was "wonderful news. I am glad he realized (residents are opposed.) I wish Mayor Marsh would realize it. I don't see any reason why Modesto would need to proceed with annexation as an option."
Modesto Councilman Dave Cogdill reacted to Withrow's decision by saying it's premature to pull the plug on the proposal. He noted that $60,000 in public funds were spent to have consultants study the costs of services in Salida and the potential revenue from developing the Salida growth area, which received county approval in 2007.
Cogdill said an advisory vote eventually should be held in Salida. If Salida residents were to reject annexation, there are approved business parks that could be developed through an agreement between the city and county.
"We need to stay focused on job development and diversifying our economy," Cogdill said.
Withrow stressed that if there are realistic proposals to develop the business parks, Salida will need to be part of the equation.
"It is really all about jobs, but it can't be to the detriment of Salida's ability to incorporate someday," Withrow said.
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2321.