Small sales tax could bring big improvements for Modesto streets

Police, fire crews could be cut without increase

kvaline@modbee.comAugust 15, 2013 

— Residents in Modesto's older neighborhoods should see more of their crumbling, potholed roads repaired if voters approve the 1 percentage point sales tax in November.

The city expects the tax will raise roughly $26 million annually over its six-year life. City officials intend to spend a quarter of the tax on the city's 634 miles of roads, with a focus on streets in older residential neighborhoods.

Those streets are some of the worst ones in Modesto.

City officials and council members met three times this week to discuss how they would spend the tax if it passes. Interim Public Works Director Jim Burch laid out this scenario to the council's Economic Development Committee on Thursday for the city's streets:

• Spend $6 million annually on road maintenance and repairs. After the meeting, Burch said the city now spends $2.5 million on its roads and can maintain and repair eight to 15 lane miles annually. The additional money will allow the city to do 20 to 40 lane miles. (The city's 634 miles of roads equal 1,400 lane miles.)

• Spend $500,000 annually rebuilding 8,000 feet of curbs, gutters and sidewalks. This would augment the $1 million the city now spends each year on this work.

• Spend an amount to be determined on replacing the antiquated, high-voltage streetlights in the city's older areas.

The streetlights are prone to catching nearby trees and lawns on fire as the insulation on the underground copper wire wears away and the wires come into contact with tree roots. The money for this work would come from some of the funding designated for streets.

Economic and Community Development Director Brent Sinclair said the streetlights are 60 to 70 years old and can be found in three dozen areas in the city, with the areas having nine to 48 streetlights.

Some of the other priorities for the tax money unveiled this week include:

• Spending an additional $1.35 million annually for tree trimming.

• Spending $2.5 million over six years for infrastructure to create shovel-ready land for business parks.

• Hiring 61 police officers to beef up patrol, combat gangs and restore the city's beat health unit, which responds to community problems and crime trends. Fire officials want to increase response times by adding staff for an additional firetruck company.

The City Council's Safety and Communities, Finance, and Economic Development Committees vetted the spending proposals this week. The proposals will go before the council Sept. 10. The council also is expected at that meeting to pass a resolution expressing its intent on how the sales tax would be spent.

The council intends to spend half on public safety, a quarter on roads, a tenth on increasing reserves and the rest on parks and recreation and economic development.

City officials said the amounts that will be spent will vary based on how much the tax increase brings in annually, but the percentages of the tax that will be spent on public safety and other items will not.

City Manger Greg Nyhoff released Thursday his proposal on cutting $6.1 million from Modesto's 2014-15 budget, which starts July 1, if the tax increase does not pass. His proposal includes closing the Dryden Golf Course, laying off police officers and browning out one of the city's fire stations.

Nyhoff and other city officials agreed to set aside the proposed cuts and not discuss them unless the tax measure fails in November.

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

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