Stanislaus County leaders OK spending plan for transportation tax, but opposition emerges

kcarlson@modbee.comFebruary 25, 2014 

    alternate textKen Carlson
    Title: Staff writer
    Coverage areas: County government, health and medicine, air quality, the environment and public pension systems
    Bio: Ken Carlson has worked 13 years for The Bee, covering local government agencies in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties. His in-depth reporting has focused on access to health care and public employee pensions.
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Stanislaus County supervisors listened to concerns and a promise of opposition before approving the spending plan Tuesday for a 25-year transportation tax that could be put on the November ballot.

It could become the third road-tax measure put before county voters in eight years. To a large extent, revenue generated by the half-cent sales tax would be used as a local match for securing federal and state grants to pay for highway improvements, bridge replacements and other transportation needs, county officials said.

“None of us like taxes,” Supervisor Terry Withrow said. “In order to get tax dollars that have left our county, we have to do this.”

Officials said 19 other counties in California collect a local tax to leverage state and federal transportation funding.

Former Modesto Mayor Carmen Sabatino told supervisors that paperwork will be filed today to create a committee opposed to the potential measure. He suggested the purpose behind the sales tax was to fund projects favored by the Modesto Chamber of Commerce and housing developers. The plan’s most ambitious effort is a major upgrade to Highway 132.

Carlos Falcon, a county coordinator for Catholic Charities, said more of the potential sales tax revenue should be dedicated to public transit needs and alternative transportation. The spending plan would allocate 6 percent of the $970 million generated over 25 years to bicycle projects, transit service for seniors and disabled people, and an extension of Altamont Corridor Express service to Modesto and Turlock.

“I don’t think it’s prudent to rush this,” Falcon said. “Anytime we begin to tax our communities, we are burdening families.”

He noted that other counties with local transportation taxes designate a much larger percentage for public transit.

Stan Risen, county chief executive officer, said there are permanent funding sources for public transit and alternative transportation but not for road maintenance.

The potential tax measure would set aside $455.9 million for maintaining local streets and roads, and the same amount for developing major traffic corridors. The funding would allow the county to resurface about 180 miles of road each year, staff said. County government’s share for local road work would be $122.4 million, second to Modesto’s $175 million.

Officials believe the county can use a $25 million local match to gain $210 million in outside funding for bridge replacements or seismic upgrades. The county has identified 21 bridge projects.

Supervisor Bill O’Brien said a public opinion survey makes sense before a decision to put the sales tax on the ballot. Environmental paperwork costing about $400,000 is required for the transportation measure. County and city representatives on the Stanislaus Council of Governments recently opted to seek polling data.

The Ceres City Council gave approval to the expenditure plan Monday night on condition a rebuild of the Mitchell Road and Service Road interchange at Highway 99 is included in the projects list.

StanCOG Executive Director Carlos Yamzon said the Ceres interchange was missing from the plan because of an oversight. But there is no problem with including it, he said. The agency has asked all nine cities for approval of the spending strategy.

In Stanislaus County, transportation tax measures fell short of getting two-thirds approval in 2006 and 2008.

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

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