Stanislaus supervisors chairman supports road tax in State of County speech

kcarlson@modbee.comFebruary 4, 2014 

DeMartini

COURTESY

Board of Supervisors Chairman Jim DeMartini said Tuesday that Stanislaus County and its nine cities should rally behind a proposed countywide road tax.

In his State of the County speech, the chairman said the county board and city councils need to pass resolutions agreeing with an allocation formula and spending plan for countywide road projects. The 1/2-cent sales tax measure will require two-thirds approval if it’s placed on the November ballot.

“Unless the county and the cities move as one on the transportation measure, we will not be successful,” DeMartini said.

Last month, the Stanislaus Council of Governments policy board agreed on a plan for a 25-year transportation tax with potential to generate $970 million. The plan would allocate 47 percent to local streets and roads, 47 percent for cross-county corridors, and 6 percent for improving mobility for seniors and the disabled.

Much of DeMartini’s speech reaffirmed the county’s agricultural heritage. This year marks the centennial for the creation of the county Farm Bureau and the University of California Cooperative Extension.

DeMartini said his family began farming in Stanislaus County more than 100 years ago after immigrating from Switzerland. Ideas for making the county a tourist mecca or a second Silicon Valley are unrealistic, he said; instead, the county should build on its strong agricultural base to create jobs.

“No one understands agricultural policy and its importance like people of Stanislaus County,” DeMartini said, noting that two U.S. secretaries of agriculture, Richard Lyng and Ann Veneman, hailed from the county. Stanislaus also has produced four state directors of agriculture.

The county needs to forge more partnerships with UC Merced; California State University, Stanislaus; and Modesto Junior College to spur economic growth, the chairman said.

DeMartini also stressed the need for effective action to address groundwater overpumping. The county has appointed a committee to develop policies for sustainable groundwater use.

“There is no value in pointing fingers, and there is no time to delay,” he said. “We need to act. If we don’t and the problem worsens, the state of California will intervene and we risk (losing) the ability to control our own destiny.”

The annual speech, intended to chart a direction for the county in the calendar year, touched on a number of other subjects:

Public safety – Under Assembly Bill 109, the state continues to shift more criminal justice responsibilities to counties. County jails are full and authorities are forced to release offenders from custody early. The county has a plan for programs and services to deal with repeat offenders, substance abuse and mental illness.

Employee pensions – The Stanislaus County Employees Retirement Association has taken strides to shore up the investment fund that pays for retirement benefits. StanCERA’s investment portfolio, which perilously dropped to $874 million in 2009, is now valued at $1.7 billion through sound management.

Childhood obesity – With a large percentage of schoolchildren who are overweight or obese, the chairman called on the county to make sure families have access to healthy foods and secure places to exercise.

Mental health – The county is preparing to open a 16-bed psychiatric health facility in Ceres next month to reduce the costs of stabilizing people in crisis.

Labor contracts – County administrators are negotiating agreements with the 12 employee unions to renew contracts expiring June 30. The county’s goal will be “to recognize the value of our employees” but ensure the county remains fiscally sound.

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

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