STANISLAUS COUNTY — A vote by residents throughout Stanislaus County on a transportation tax in November remains a possibility despite reservations of transportation leaders.
Much of the reluctance Tuesday in a lengthy Stanislaus Council of Governments discussion centered on lack of details regarding what a ballot measure might include. Some members also were uneasy at the thought of comparatively little time for a persuasive campaign and leaned toward asking voters for a higher sales tax in 2015 or 2016 rather than 2014.
The agency, composed of elected leaders from the county and its nine cities, put off deciding until its Jan. 15 meeting. Before then, a committee of city managers and a county administrator will attempt to describe how much extra shoppers would pay and what benefits people could expect to see, such as new roads or much better paved existing streets.
That directive to city managers was tried a few months ago without much success when they said they wanted more input from regular folks. Theyll have to get by without, as StanCOG members on Tuesday unanimously voted not to have a consultant spend $20,000 taking pulses in 15-person focus groups across the county.
But city managers will get more help this time around, from three of StanCOGs 16 elected members: County Supervisor Terry Withrow, Patterson Mayor Luis Molina and newly seated Modesto Councilwoman Jenny Kenoyer.
This group is not ready to vote on putting something on the ballot right now. Lets get a plan and decide at that point, said Modesto Mayor Garrad Marsh, summarizing Tuesdays action near the end of a debate lasting nearly two hours.
No StanCOG member spoke against the idea of a higher sales tax for road, bus and rail projects. Most agree that the 19 counties in California with approved transportation taxes, among 58, offer stronger economies because businesses gravitate toward places with nicer road networks. Those counties leverage many times the amount of money raised in state and federal dollars available only to so-called self-help counties, advocates say.
Previous ballot measures here failed in 2006 and 2008. The last lost by only 175 votes out of tens of thousands cast, said Modesto businessman Craig Lewis, who spearheaded the first and helped to advise the second. The near victory, he said, was due to support among elected leaders on all levels.
Lewis praised Turlock for backing away from the idea of a sales tax increase benefiting only that city, which might have diluted support for a countywide effort. He also said that potential financial sponsors of a tax campaign, including labor unions, are likely to kick in more money in 2014 or 2015.
Oakdale Councilman Mike Brennan acknowledged that lackluster 2008 support from the countys east side doomed that effort. He said he has no faith in focus groups or polling and predicted that success will depend on leaders like himself spreading the word more effectively about benefits of a higher tax. If this group says yes, Im going to be out there every day if I have to, to educate every voting person in our part of the county, Brennan said.
Marsh said he still wants to see results of a future voter poll to know whether a full-out campaign could be worth the effort. He was a champion of Measure X, a general tax increase narrowly defeated at Modesto polls last month; most proceeds would have beefed up public safety, although council members had promised to reserve some for roads.
The StanCOG Policy Board will discuss a potential transportation tax at 6 p.m. Jan. 15 in the third-floor boardroom at 1111 I St., Modesto.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2390.