StanCOG outlines how to spend road tax funds, if it passes

kcarlson@modbee.comJanuary 15, 2014 

DN bad roads

Cars travel over bumpy Kansas Ave., between Emeral and Reno Avenues (7-31-13). The Pavement Condition index that ranks Modesto city roads, says our neighborhood streets are the worst, especially those in older neighborhoods.

DEBBIE NODA — The Modesto Bee Buy Photo

A county and city transportation policy board Wednesday recommended how to spend the revenue from a half-cent countywide road tax, which could appear on the ballot as early as November.

The Stanislaus Council of Governments board favored a sales tax increase for 25 years, projected to generate $970 million for regional corridors, local streets, rail, public transit and other needs. The expenditure plan would divide the revenue into 47 percent for local streets and roads, 47 percent for major corridors and 6 percent for regional rail, bicycles, and improving mobility for seniors and the disabled.

The revenue split is designed to please county leaders and the nine cities in Stanislaus County, all of whom are represented on the StanCOG board. Supervisor Terry Withrow said county representatives and city managers recently met on two days, totaling five hours, to work out the spending plan.

It received broad support from the policy board after a more than 90-minute discussion, except for “no” votes from County Supervisor Jim DeMartini and Oakdale Councilman Michael Brennan.

Backers would count on voters to approve a 25-year tax, though speakers advised that a 10-year tax might be more acceptable to taxpayers. The county’s voters would be asked to approve $456 million for cities, mainly to catch up with street maintenance. County government would use about $456 million for building what’s known as the “north county corridor,” major upgrades to Highway 132 and a traffic corridor between Turlock and Patterson.

Sparks flew over the 6 percent, or $58.2 million, designated for regional rail, bicycles, and improving transportation for seniors and the disabled.

Modesto Councilwoman Jenny Kenoyer said seniors are frequent voters but the plan allotted only $116,400 a year for improvements to benefit older residents. She proposed increasing that rail-seniors-bicycle piece to 10 percent, with 45 percent each for local streets and regional corridors.

DeMartini asked for more specifics on the senior mobility projects and later said it looked like a “welfare program.”

Kenoyer shot back: “I am totally offended (for that) to be called a welfare program.”

County Supervisor Dick Monteith also favored more dollars to assist seniors and the disabled. His suggestion to boost that spending category to $349,000 annually, at the expense of rail service, was accepted by the board.

That left $1.86 million a year for supporting the extension of Altamont Commuter Express service to Modesto and Turlock. The commuter trains currently run between stops in San Joaquin County and the Bay Area.

The county and the cities will be asked to pass resolutions supporting the plan. Under a timeline, StanCOG could ask the county Board of Supervisors in June to put the tax measure on the ballot. It would require two-thirds approval. A countywide road tax failed by a whisker in 2008.

According to StanCOG staff, San Joaquin County’s Measure K sales tax devoted up to a third of revenue for regional rail and other transportation that coaxes people out of their cars.

County leaders have envisioned a road tax to produce the local dollars needed to win major transportation grants from the federal government. StanCOG Executive Director Carlos Yamzon said there was no strict formula telling how much federal money could be leveraged with the sales tax. The government considers project proposals on a case-by-case basis.

Craig Lewis, chairman of the land-use committee of the Modesto Chamber of Commerce, said a 10-year tax increase would stand a better chance with local voters.

Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at kcarlson@modbee.com or (209) 578-2321

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