Modesto council about to learn how residents feel about services, taxes

kvalne@modbee.comJune 9, 2013 

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    alternate text Kevin Valine
    Title: Reporter
    Coverage areas: City of Modesto and nonprofits
    Bio: Kevin Valine has been a copy editor and reporter at The Bee since January 2006. He's worked at the Reno Gazette-Journal, Sarasota (Fla.) Herald-Tribune and Paradise Post as a reporter and copy editor. He's a graduate of San Jose State.
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— The Modesto City Council will hear the results this week of a phone survey in which several hundred residents were asked their satisfaction with the city's customer service and their support of a half-cent or 1 cent sales tax increase.

Deputy City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley said survey results were not available and the consulting firm that conducted the survey will provide the council with an oral report at its Tuesday night meeting. She declined to reveal the preliminary discussions the city and the consultant have had regarding the survey's draft findings.

"I think it is more appropriate for the consultants to provide the results; providing you with generalizations or preliminary information is premature and would not provide a complete analysis," Williams-Ridley said in an email.

But one person who took the survey said it focused on gauging the level of support for a half-cent sales tax for public safety and a 1 cent sales tax for general operations, such as maintaining parks, fixing roads, and hiring police officers and firefighters.

"The city was attempting to arm themselves with the necessary information to determine if they had the support for a sales tax measure in the community," said Steve Madison, executive director of the Stanislaus Affordable Housing Corp. He also leads the Chamber of Commerce committee that will evaluate and make a recommendation if the city decides to put a sales tax increase on the November ballot.

Madison said he was surveyed about a month ago, and it took 10 to 12 minutes. He said the survey taker asked some basic questions about his satisfaction with city serv-ices, but most of the survey and the in-depth questions focused on the tax increases.

He said the survey taker asked him whether he was aware that property crimes had increased and public safety staffing had declined. He said the survey taker told him that without more revenue for police and fire, the city would have to reduce funding for other services.

"It went through this parade of horribles," Madison said about the survey.

The survey taker also gauged his response to a series of arguments in favor of and in opposition to a tax increase.

Mayor Garrad Marsh confirmed that the survey asked participants about a half-cent public safety tax and a 1 cent general tax. But Marsh said he thought the main point of the survey was on residents' level of satisfaction with city services.

The mayor proposed a temporary public safety sales tax in February during his State of the City address. But recently, he has stopped calling it a public safety tax and has called it a "sales tax of some sort."

Marsh has said that while finances have stabilized, the city has not recovered the revenue it lost during the recession. He said that means Modesto does not have enough money for its roads, parks and public safety.

He has said the city needs a short-term revenue source while it works on long-term economic development initiatives. Marsh declined Friday to talk about his sales tax proposal until he knows the survey results.

"The first thing is to find out what the viability is," he said. "We'll find that out next week."

Marsh said the consultant will brief him and council members on the survey results today ahead of Tuesday's council meeting.

Modesto hired The Lew Edwards Group from Oakland to conduct the phone survey. Williams-Ridley has said the city would not pay more than $35,500 for the survey and associated work.

According to the scope of work for the project, Modesto asked The Lew Edwards Group to develop a survey that reflects the city's geography, demographics and diversity, including a Spanish version for the city's Spanish-speaking residents.

The City Council meets at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in the basement chamber, Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St.

Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at kvaline@modbee.com or (209) 578-2316.

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