Turlock takes steps on water recycling, ballot

jholland@modbee.comJune 10, 2014 

— The City Council voted Tuesday night to continue planning a water recycling project that would supply West Side farmers.

It also approved a 2014-15 budget and took final votes to place measures on district elections and a sales tax increase for street repairs on the November ballot.

The council voted 5-0 to contribute $666,810 toward the next stage of planning for the recycling project, which would provide the Del Puerto Water District with reclaimed water from Turlock and Modesto. Modesto is paying $745,258 and the district $156,897 under a 2010 agreement for sharing the costs.

Because of drought, Del Puerto is getting no water this year from the federal Central Valley Project for its 45,000 acres along Interstate 5 between Vernalis and Santa Nella. It also has lost water in recent years to protect fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Turlock and Modesto expect to have substantial water available from sewage treatment systems that are being upgraded to make the outfall clean enough for crops. The project, which has a rough cost estimate of $100 million, could make up for part of Del Puerto’s shortfall as early as 2017, General Manager Anthea Hansen said Tuesday.

Project consultant Brad Hawn, an engineer and former Modesto councilman, said the effort has gained national attention. “Everybody likes the project, and they want to see it happen,” he said.

The $1.57 million will pay for study of the project’s environmental effects, refinement of the basic design, evaluation of possible funding sources and other work. This would build on two earlier studies that found the project worth pursuing. It could be funded by Del Puerto farmers, with help perhaps from state and federal grants and loans.

The council voted 4-1 to place a half-percentage-point sales tax increase for street repair on the ballot. Councilwoman Amy Bublak, who has said the tax would be too much of a burden on residents, dissented again.

The measure, which needs at least two-thirds approval from voters, would pay for an estimated $5.6 million in street repairs annually over its seven-year life. It would end sooner if the Stanislaus Council of Governments gets voters to pass a countywide measure.

The vote was 5-0 to place district elections on the ballot, a move aimed at increasing minority representation. The council selected a map that would create a southwest district with a substantial Latino population, south of Fulkerth Road and west of Golden State Boulevard. The other districts would roughly cover the northwest, northeast and southeast quadrants.

If approved by voters, the districts would take effect with the 2016 and 2018 elections. The mayor still would be elected citywide.

Bublak again dissented in the 4-1 vote to approve the general fund budget for the fiscal year starting July 1. She objected to leaving a blank line item for the possible sales tax increase, and she said the city needs to deal first with city employee contracts that are coming due.

The budget lists $32.4 million in general fund spending, up from $30.5 million in the current year, thanks mainly to growth in sales and property taxes. This fund mainly goes to police and fire protection and is where the council has the most discretion.

The budget takes $915,619 from reserves, which stand at about $13.3 million, mainly to replace capital equipment.

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

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