Turlock leaders hear feedback on road tax idea

mrowland@modbee.comApril 30, 2013 

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— Turlock residents got their first chance to sound off Tuesday on a proposed tax to fix the city's ailing streets.

A small group gathered for the first of four community forums held by the City Council to get input on "critical issues."

But the main attraction was roads, as discussion continued over putting a parcel tax or sales tax on the ballot to fund needed maintenance and repairs.

"We hear almost on a daily basis about the roads," said Mayor John Lazar, who made fixing the streets a priority in his February State of the City address.

The city faces an $8 million annual gap in the amount it funds road repair and the amount needed to maintain its streets. It spends about $2 million, but a recent road condition survey shows that $10 million is needed.

About a dozen residents attended the forum at Dutcher Middle School. City staff first addressed the audience with presentations on the purpose and priorities of departments ranging from police and fire to water, parks and recreation.

City Manager Roy Wasden laid out Turlock's budget and funding structure as well, giving a lay of the land on how the taxes residents pay are distributed among the city, county, state and federal governments. The city has a $30 million annual general fund budget.

Of the some $215 million raised in Turlock by sales, property and income taxes, about $13 million stays in the city each year.

Development Services Director Mike Pitcock, who oversees transit, said to make up for the $8 million shortfall, the city has looked into two options: a parcel tax per property or a half-cent sales tax.

The parcel tax would be $402 annually for a flat rate or $162 and up annually based on square footage.

Three residents stood to comment on the proposed taxes.

Longtime Turlock resident Dewey Rowe supported the sales tax and said he broke a strut on his vehicle recently on a city pothole.

"If you're going to use the streets, you should pay for them," he said. "I guarantee people who drive up and down these rough streets spend as much on repair than you would a half-cent sales tax."

Former Turlock City Councilman Kurt Spycher opposed the tax options. He said if a sales tax increase were imposed, he and others would consider purchasing goods outside the city to save money.

"We don't have a revenue problem. Our problem is in Sacramento and D.C. In my opinion, our efforts should be in holding our elected officials accountable," he said.

Turlock resident Bruce Abanathie said the community would support the idea of the sales tax.

"I live in Turlock, and if there is a sales tax, I'm still going to shop in Turlock. Because I know Turlock is the one benefiting," he said. "Turlock will support Turlock."

Council members urged more residents to weigh in on the roads issue. Three more meetings are planned: May 9 at Westside Ministries, May 30 at the Senior Citizens Center and June 13 at Pitman High School.

"What I would encourage all of you, go out and talk to your neighbors," said Councilman Forrest White. "The best thing we can do is to get a lot of people to give us a lot of information on this issue."

Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at mrowland@modbee.com or (209) 578-2284. Follow her on www.twitter.com/turlocknow.

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