Ceres council backs bid to increase sales tax

Stanislaus County's attempt to resurrect and rehabilitate a defeated ½-cent sales tax increase for transportation got a unanimous but cautious endorsement from the Ceres City Council on Monday night.

Vince Harris, executive director of the Stanislaus Council of Governments, visited the council to begin a drive to build support for the county's complicated formula. He said he was going to visit all of the county's incorporated nine cities.

Harris and county Supervisor Jim DeMartini stressed that time was of the essence if the measure was going to make it through the nine city councils, the county Board of Supervisors and onto the November ballot.

DeMartini, a rancher who represents the West Side, said he disliked the defeated 2006 measure. He said the new proposal was for a shorter duration, 20 years instead of 30, and emphasized local control. "I'm conservative and they had to change a lot to get me on board with a tax hike," he said, adding, "This is our best chance to fix the county road system. If this doesn't pass, we'll forever be behind."

The county would trade $39 million of the proposed total revenues to the cities, in exchange for a 20-year plan that has the cities giving up 2 percent of their road budgets to the county each year.

The other carrot in the proposal for Ceres was $31 million for a Mitchell Road service road interchange improving the connections to Highway 99.

Mayor Anthony Cannella appeared to feel the pressure of the "act now" agenda but said previous concerns with the county proposal had been addressed. Plus, he said Highway 99 was the critical element in attracting business to Ceres. "There has to be easy access off and on 99 or the businesses won't come. It's that simple."

Cannella said he believed approving the StanCOG's concept plan was the only way to be sure Ceres maintained a voice in county transportation matters.

Staff writer Roger W. Hoskins may be reached at rhoskins@modbee.com or 578-2311.