Turlock moves sales tax, districts toward ballot

jholland@modbee.comMay 27, 2014 

— The City Council gave near-final approval Tuesday night to placing two major issues on the November ballot – district elections and a sales tax increase for street repairs.

Expansion of a Christmas-season skating rink on the east edge of town won support, too.

The council voted 4-1 to ask voters to raise the tax by half a percentage point for seven years. Two-thirds approval would be needed.

The vote was unanimous for district elections, including a map that divides Turlock in a simpler way than the other two options. The proposal aims to increase representation for Latino residents and to avoid a costly legal battle with minority advocates.

Both ballot issues will return to the council for a second and final vote June 10.

Councilwoman Amy Bublak, who opposed the tax measure, said the economy has not recovered enough to ask Turlock shoppers for more money. The city’s sales tax rate is 7.625 percent; the proposed increase would add 50 cents to a $100 taxable purchase.

The measure would raise an estimated $5.6 million a year for repair of streets in many parts of Turlock, from residential courts to well-traveled thoroughfares. Mayor John Lazar said it would deal with potholes that can damage cars, injure pedestrians and impede emergency vehicles.

“This is an opportunity to kind of take care of our own,” he said.

The city tax would go away if the Stanislaus Council of Governments gets voters to approve a countywide measure, possibly in 2016. That idea appeared to have died in March, prompting Turlock officials to revive their own tax proposal.

The council decided against devoting up to $100,000 of the annual income to the city bus service, which is struggling to meet the fare box income required for federal funding.|

The Turlock Chamber of Commerce supports the tax plan, which would help stimulate the local economy, said Sharon Silva, president and chief executive officer.

The group also endorsed the move to district elections, although Silva said it had no problem with the at-large system that has long been used.

The chosen map would create a Latino-influenced district in the southwest part of the city, south of Fulkerth Road and west of Golden State Boulevard. The rest of Turlock would be roughly divided into southeast, northeast and northwest districts.

“It splits the city in fours pretty equitably,” Councilman Forrest White said.

If approved by voters, the districts would take effect with the 2016 and 2018 elections. Bublak and Councilman Bill DeHart live in the northeast. White is in the southeast and Councilman Steven Nascimento in the northwest. The mayor would continue to be elected citywide.

Lazar joined in the vote for this map but said he preferred one that would give a piece of downtown to all four districts.

The council voted 4-0 for an increase, to 9,600 square feet, for an ice rink that operates from late November to mid-January at Daubenberger Road and Canal Drive. It is part of a complex that also offers a Halloween pumpkin patch, corn and hay mazes, Christmas trees and other seasonal activities.

The site is operated by RAM Farms, which includes Ron Macedo, a prominent farmer and chairman of the Turlock Irrigation District board.

Lazar, a real estate broker, withdrew from the discussion because of business dealings.

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at jholland@modbee.com or (209) 578-2385.

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