Kevin Valine

Modesto News: Tax’s fate uncertain, but Modesto moves forward with oversight panel

The fate of Measure G – Modesto’s one-half percent general sales tax increase – won’t be decided until Nov. 3 when voters go to the polls. And if the measure passes, it won’t take effect until April 1, and the city won’t see any money from the tax until June.

But on Tuesday, the City Council authorized City Manager Jim Holgersson to invite community groups to select people to serve on Measure G’s 11-member oversight committee.

Because it’s a general tax, Measure G can be spent on any government purpose. But the council intends to spend it on the city’s Safer Neighborhoods Initiative, which primarily calls for hiring more police officers and firefighters and for other public safety purposes. The committee will be charged with reviewing the measure’s revenue and expenditures and programs funded by the measure, and report to the council with its findings and recommendations.

That sounds like good government at work. But the timing struck Councilman Dave Lopez as odd. He asked why the city is moving forward now with forming the committee. “Why not wait until the election happens and we hear from the people?” he said. “We are not waiting to hear from the voters.”

Lopez is challenging Mayor Garrad Marsh in the November election and voted against putting Measure G on the ballot. Lopez favors a special tax that could be spent only on public safety. But a special tax requires two-thirds voter approval, while a general tax requires a simple majority.

He questioned whether the oversight committee would get the “best of the best” to serve because community groups have until Oct. 1 to pick people, whether it is the best use of Holgersson’s time to work on the committee before voters have weighed in on Measure G, and whether forming the committee and publicizing the committee members’ names could confuse voters.

Lopez is concerned voters may think that because someone has been named to the committee, that means that person supports Measure G. Lopez said someone may want to serve while not supporting the tax to ensure the city follows its intentions for the general tax. The tax is expected to bring in $14 million annually over its eight-year life.

There also is the question that picking the committee now is a sly way for the city to campaign on behalf of Measure G by touting a feature it believes will appeal to voters. Modesto is required to be neutral when it comes to Measure G.

Marsh said this is not an effort to campaign for the tax.

City officials say the Safer Neighborhoods Initiative has lots of moving parts and will take time to put into action. Marsh said if Measure G passes, the city will quickly adjust its budget to reflect that it will be getting additional revenue and start the lengthy process of hiring more police officers. And a city report states Holgersson will work with oversight committee members to help them define their roles and responsibilities.

In the end, a reluctant Lopez joined the rest of the council in voting to have Holgersson invite community groups to pick members for the committee.

A city report states the 11-member committee would be made up of four members of neighborhood groups picked by Modesto Neighborhoods Inc. (each group would represent a different part of the city); one member each from Modesto City Schools, Central Labor Council, Chamber of Commerce, Stanislaus Community Foundation, Commission on Aging and League of Women Voters; and one member from the “safety community” picked by the police chief.

Kevin Valine: 209-578-2316