TURLOCK NOW: Road tax forum draws bigger crowd

06/03/2013 7:25 PM

06/20/2013 1:07 PM

The third time was the charm for the Turlock City Council in getting a bigger crowd out to talk about a possible road tax to fix the city’s lumpy, bumpy streets.

About 30 people attended the third of four planned community forums, nearly tripling earlier event attendance. About a dozen people spoke, with most commenting on the council’s discussion of either a parcel tax or half-cent sales tax to raise funds to maintain and improve the city’s streets.

Most in attendance agreed that something must be done about the roads, which a survey company study showed needed $10 million a year to sustain maintenance. Currently Turlock spends about $2 million on the roads, putting the city $8 million short.

The half-cent sales tax idea was lauded by some as the most equitable way to raise the needed funds. Turlock City staff estimate the tax would provide an additional $5 million.

Lee Smith, owner of Smith Chevrolet in Turlock, said he would be for the half-cent sales tax increase if the money raised was dedicated only to roads. Sales tax measures must pass by 50 percent plus one vote for money to go into the general fund or 66.67 percent to become a protected fund.

“(A sales tax increase) will affect me to some extent as I sell high ticket items. It makes me a little less competitive than someone else. Not that big a deal for us,” she said. “If this money goes into the general fund, not too excited. If goes into street fund, just to repair the streets. I’m all for it.”

Turlock resident Mike Crowell agreed with the idea of a dedicated sales tax just for Turlock roads. He said a separate countywide effort, backed by the Turlock Chamber of Commerce, would suck money away from Turlock’s streets and into big projects like a proposed Highway 132 corridor.

“I want to see a road tax for fixing roads, not building them,” he said. “To sit down and take this from Modesto, not in my life. It’s all 132, 132 — it will gobble up everything from Turlock.”

Still two speakers argued against the sales tax, one because they felt it would be inequitable to to lower income and the other because it would be a double tax for those in newer subdivisions with annual road assessment districts already.

Other speakers were perplex at the city’s recent roadside spruce-up landscaping projects, including planting new trees and plants along Golden State Boulevard and Christoffersen Parkway. But Development Services Director Mike Pitcock explained that those were federal grants that could only be used on such beautification projects, and not on road maintenance. The city simply could not use the money on anything else.

What almost everyone who spoke could agree on was something must be done about the streets, and doing nothing would not fix the potholes and crumbling asphalt. The public has one last chance to weigh on the issue before council begins to deliberate it themselves. The final community forum will be at 7 p.m. June 13 at Pitman High School’s cafeteria, 2525 W. Christoffersen Parkway.

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