Grand jury clears Oakdale on 2011 tax measure

jholland@modbee.comJune 24, 2013 

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    alternate textJohn Holland
    Title: Staff writer
    Coverage areas: Agriculture, Turlock; local news editor on Sundays
    Bio: John Holland has been a reporter at The Bee for 12 years. He has a journalism degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and previously worked at the Union Democrat in Sonora and the Visalia Times-Delta.
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— Oakdale officials did not mislead voters about the Measure O sales tax increase, the Stanislaus County civil grand jury said Monday in an annual report that delivered no bombshells.

The 2012-13 report deals with a half-dozen complaints about local government, along with the required review of county jails under state law.

The 18-member panel rejected a complaint that Measure O, a tax increase approved in 2011, was "misrepresented to voters." This appears to refer to a belief that the money raised by the three-year increase must be earmarked for police and fire services.

The grand jury looked at election documents and found that the money "could be used for any municipal purpose."

"There is no indication of any misrepresentation and/or misconduct on the part of the city of Oakdale mayor, members of the Oakdale City Council or any employees of the city of Oakdale regarding Measure O," the report says.

The City Council nonetheless has put most of the tax income into public safety, including a budget approved last week for the fiscal year that will start July 1.

The grand jury is appointed by the presiding judge of the Superior Court. Its recommendations are not binding, but officials have to respond in writing to the findings.

Another complaint from the same area involved the Oakdale Irrigation District. The report says it has the right to an easement on a complainant's property to repair a leaky pipe.

The jury urged the OID and the owner to work on a solution that does not damage a retaining wall, fence and old tree on the property, which was not identified.

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at jholland@modbee.com or (209) 578-2385.

 


 

GRAND JURY FINDINGS

The Stanislaus County civil grand jury released reports on these topics Monday afternoon:

MONTEREY PARK TRACT COMMUNITY SERVICES DISTRICT: A complaint was made May 29 alleging that the water district held a public meeting May 14, 2012, and conducted an invalid vote to raise water rates. The district in the unincorporated area of Stanislaus County 4½ miles southwest of Ceres covers about 31 acres and serves 114 residents. There is one vacant seat on the district's five-member board of directors. Three board members are serving elected or appointed terms. One board member appointed by the county Board of Supervisors in 2007 continues to serve on the board, even though that member's term expired in 2009. The grand jury determined that a board member can continue until he or she resigns or is replaced by a successor through election or appointment. The 2012 vote in question was valid but procedures for district elections have not always been followed, the grand jury found. The grand jury recommended that the water district and the Board of Supervisors should make candidate recruitment a priority to fill the vacant spot on the district's board.

STANISLAUS COUNTY FLEET SERVICES POLICY: The grand jury decided to investigate based on concerns expressed by the Board of Supervisors about fleet services policy in an October 2012 story in The Bee. Its focus was centered on the vehicle procurement and salvage policy. There are about 850 county vehicles with annual purchases of about 100 vehicles per year, averaging $30,000 per vehicle. The grand jury found that staff reductions caused underuse of about 90 vehicles. Centralized vehicle purchasing would provide more control over vehicle costs. Currently, the county cannot easily transfer vehicles among its departments. The grand jury recommends that the Board of Supervisors consider centralizing its vehicle purchases and repairs and that a vehicle replacement-capital outlay fund be used for all purchases.

STANISLAUS COUNTY JAIL FACILITIES: The grand jury's inspection found the jail facilities are housing an increased number of high-risk inmates, a larger percentage of inmates suffering from mental illness and a larger percentage of inmates with medical needs. These inmates are being locked up longer in facilities not designed for that purpose. Also, the facilities will be forced to upgrade, as a requirement of state prison realignment funding, to include educational, general health, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, and anti-recidivism programs. The facilities are operating at or above the state-mandated performance levels. Sheriff's custodial staff members are moving about 300 inmates to and from court per week from the three facilities. The electronics in the control center at the Public Safety Center are outdated, and replacement parts are difficult and costly to obtain. The Honor Farm is outdated and can't effectively house the current level of inmates, and its remoteness makes it difficult to operate and support logistically. The downtown Modesto jail is outdated and is used to house a higher percentage of high-risk inmates in cells with a smaller number of inmates per cell. The grand jury recommended that the county adequately prepare for prison realignment effects, close the Honor Farm as soon as possible and accelerate any proposed renovations at the downtown jail.

STANISLAUS COUNTY SCHOOL SAFETY: The grand jury began an inquiry into possible improvements to school safety as a result of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., in December. The Stanislaus County Office of Education, however, does not have direct supervisory control over all schools in the county. The grand jury was unable to have its questions and concerns answered in the time available. There is no centralized point within the county that collects data on school safety programs and no centralized organization within the county that reviews and approves all school safety and crisis intervention programs. The grand jury suggested that some school districts do not have programs that meet state requirements. It recommended that the incoming grand jury take up this issue and do a thorough review of all school districts. Additionally, it recommended a centralized point in the county to oversee this issue.

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