Transportation officials will explore sources other than the upcoming road tax for senior transit, they told concerned seniors in two meetings Tuesday.
"You represent the most vulnerable part of our population and you shouldn't have been left (out)," said Janice Keating, representing Modesto at the Stanislaus Council of Governments meeting.
She referred to the idea of raising sales tax by a half-percent for road projects, slated to go before voters throughout Stanislaus County in November. Measure K, a similar but unsuccessful effort two years earlier, would have provided $25 million for senior and disabled transit over 30 years, but a formula for the latest 20-year proposal earmarks no such thing.
"We're still here, and we're looking to you for help," said Mickey Peabody, chairwoman of the Commission on Aging, at Tuesday evening's StanCOG policy board meeting.
Earlier in the day, county officials selected Supervisors Dick Monteith and Jeff Grover to head up an ad hoc committee searching for other funding to appease seniors while not putting a kink in the road tax proposal. A tight timeline leading to the November election would make altering its distribution formula nearly impossible because officials with the county and its nine cities already have agreed.
Monteith and Grover also serve on the StanCOG board and urged an army of vocal seniors to stay involved, including joining the ad hoc committee.
"We have to have your participation and input or it's all a waste of time," Monteith told them Tuesday evening. "You will be a vital part of it."
Advocates for the disabled have not joined the public dialogue.
The most likely money pot is supposed to be used for transit projects. For decades, officials each year have declared the county free of "unmet transit needs," allowing them to use millions instead on road maintenance such as fixing potholes and filling cracks.
"This is money that's already coming in and doesn't depend on a vote," Grover told disgruntled seniors. He said the ad hoc committee's first task is to prove that Stanislaus County has transit needs, to the satisfaction of state officials.
Just last month, StanCOG officials converted $3 million in transit funding to road repair. Of that, they're using $400,000 toward studies required for the road tax vote.
Modesto transit manager Fred Cavanah acknowledged that actually using transit money for its intended purpose would lessen an already anemic pot to repair crumbling streets.
Senior outcry at being ignored by the tax formula suggests plenty of unmet transit needs.
Several on Tuesday evening wore bright purple T-shirts bearing the slogan "Mind the GAP," distributed by the Catholic Charities affiliate Golden Agers for Progress. They want to close a widening gap between growing numbers of seniors and dwindling resources.
They'd like to see more money go into public and private transportation programs, some of which are unreliable and less than sensitive to the needs of slower, vulnerable riders, some seniors say.
"We know we have to speak up," said GAP coordinator Jenny Kenoyer, 72. "If we don't, nobody will hear us and we'll become a lost generation."
Kirk Lindsey, the valley's closest thing to transportation royalty by virtue of his eights years on the vaunted California Transportation Commission, said transit dollars number in the billions — if state officials can be kept from raiding those funds.
"If you can identify your needs," Lindsey said, "you'll have access to tremendous amounts of money to do the things you need to do."
Modesto resident Clarence Blom, 75, noted that the state is reaping unprecedented wealth in gas tax revenue as fuel costs continue climbing. "There's got to be another way to fund a road tax," he said.
The newly formed ad hoc committee is scheduled to meet at 10 a.m. on April 3 in the sixth-floor conference room at Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St., Modesto. Findings will be reported at a Stanislaus Council of Governments meeting starting at 6 p.m. April 9 in the basement chamber of the same building.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2390.