Turlock forums focusing on roads

mrowland@modbee.comJune 13, 2013 

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— After four community forums on a possible road tax and other city issues, the message from attendees was clear — find a way to fix the streets.

After starting out slowly, the City Council-sponsored forums — which kicked off at the end of April — gained momentum and attendance. About 20 people came to the final event Thursday night at Pitman High School.

Turlock has faced a continuous shortfall in its road maintenance spending. A survey of city streets has shown $10 million is needed annually to keep the streets in satisfactory condition. The city currently spends only about $2 million, leaving an $8 million gap.

Two main options for raising the additional revenue have been discussed by the council — a half-cent sales tax or parcel property tax.

At all four forums, more speakers favored a possible sales tax.

"I walk every morning three miles around my neighborhood and it's full of holes," said 26-year Turlock resident Debbe Bailey. "So I have a real interest in the roads. To me, there is no question that more money is needed."

Bailey said she supported a dedicated sales tax to go toward roads, even though it would require a more difficult vote threshold — 66.67 percent instead of a simple majority.

Fellow longtime Turlock resident Tom Mickelsen also favored a dedicated sales tax.

"I'm a lifelong Republican, but voted for the governor's tax increase because the state has problems, too," he said. "But I would only vote for the road tax, not a general fund tax."

Throughout the forums, only a handful of people spoke out against any kind of tax to maintain the roads. Only a few people also spoke up for a parcel tax, which would be assessed either on a flat rate or by property size.

In the final forum, there was more concern about whether a dedicated sales tax could pass with voters. Stanislaus County twice has had a special transportation tax on the ballot, and twice fallen short of the two-thirds threshold.

Public input is key

Turlock Mayor John Lazar, who made fixing the roads one of his State of the City priorities, long has favored the half-cent sales tax approach. But he also said public input is key to any plan moving forward.

"We're just out here to listen. There's no decision made," he said.

New Councilman Steve Nascimento said he saw a half-cent sales tax as the most equitable way to raise funds from all those who use the city's roads, not just Turlock residents.

But a sales tax could not raise the full $8 million needed. The tax would bring in about $5 million annually.

Still, City Manager Roy Wasden said having those available funds could make Turlock eligible for state and federal matching grants that could fill in the remaining gap.

The City Council now will decide whether to put a road tax on the ballot as early as November. But members want to keep hearing from the public on the issue.

"Truly, the only way we can help a situation is to hear your input," said Councilman Bill DeHart.

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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