TURLOCK -- The City Council will conduct a series of public forums in the next 90 days to gauge the community's feelings on a possible transportation tax to fix its ailing roads.
Council members held a special session before the regular meeting Tuesday night to hear a report on the city's streets and discuss possible funding options.
Director of Development Services Michael Pitcock said, on average, the streets score 59 out of 100 on the standardized pavement condition index, putting Turlock at the "satisfactory" level. To keep the streets there, each year the city must spend $10 million. Pitcock said Turlock spends only about $2 million on road maintenance, creating a funding and repair gap.
"We are currently not investing enough for road maintenance, and our streets continue to degrade," he said.
To fill that $8 million gap, the city is looking at a parcel tax or a sales tax dedicated to transportation.
Pitcock said a parcel tax could add a flat per-lot rate of about $402 for Turlock property owners. A half- cent sales tax would spread the burden across all who shop in the city. Both would need to be placed on the ballot and receive a two-thirds voter majority to pass.
Municipal bond and tax consultant William Berry said no city has been able to pass a municipal sales tax for roads. Those kinds of taxes have been handled almost exclusively by county governments. But, he said, more cities are looking at the option because of the tightening state budget.
'Seize the moment'
Mayor John Lazar, who made fixing roads one of his key State of the City issues last month, said he hopes the council will act quickly on the matter.
"I think seize the moment our odds are better now. If we don't move on this in a year, this might get lost in other issues," he said. "I think it's convenient and easy to not do anything. Because no one likes taxes or new taxes. But our roads are deteriorating, and if that's the way to go, we should do it."
Councilwoman Amy Bublak questioned whether roads were the community's first priority. She asked that the forums be open to discussing other funding priorities, such as public safety and the need for water.
"I think we need to find out what the public wants. Is it roadways, safety, water, all of it?" she asked.
City Manager Roy Wasden said he would schedule the series of public forums around the city for the community to voice opinions. Once the dates and locations are set, the meetings will be publicized widely.
Councilman Forrest White said he would be interested to hear from the public, but knows what he hears about most often.
"What I get hit with is roads, roads, roads, roads, roads," he said.
Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at mrowland@modbee. com or (209) 578-2284. Follow her on Twitter, @turlocknow.