Turlock sales tax measure would raise funds to repair streets

A Yes on B sign posted along W. Hawkeye Ave. near Geer Rd. Turlock voters will decide on Measure B, a half-cent sales tax for repairing the streets.
A Yes on B sign posted along W. Hawkeye Ave. near Geer Rd. Turlock voters will decide on Measure B, a half-cent sales tax for repairing the streets. dnoda@modbee.com

City voters will decide next month whether to pay an extra half-cent tax on purchases so residents can drive on smoother roads.

Supporters worked to put Measure B on the Nov. 4 ballot in Turlock after the Stanislaus Council of Governments postponed a countywide ballot proposal for transportation.

Measure B would raise an estimated $5.6 million each year for repair and maintenance on Turlock’s failing streets. If 66.7 percent of voters give approval, Turlock’s sales tax rate will be 8.125 percent for seven years, up from 7.625 percent.

The tax revenue is not for building wider roads or expressways. Measure B includes a priority list for fixing hundreds of streets – from Alpha Road to Zephyr Court – and would create an oversight committee to monitor how the funds are spent.

“People don’t like taxes, but they understand the roads need to be fixed,” said Jim Theis, chairman of the Citizens for Yes on Measure B campaign committee. With a city road tax, he said, “the money is collected in Turlock, it stays in Turlock and is spent on fixing Turlock roads.”

Theis noted that around 10 percent of the city’s sales tax dollars come from consumers who don’t live in Turlock but shop at retail stores near Highway 99 or buy cars from local dealers.

Measure B is supported by Mayor John Lazar, other community leaders and most city office seekers on the ballot in November. The campaign committee has received monetary support from construction, real estate and labor sources, as well as individual donors.

The Stanislaus Council of Governments has its sights set on 2016 for putting another countywide road tax before voters. To make sure Turlock residents are not charged twice for roads, the city tax would cease to exist if the county one is approved. Previous county transportation measures failed in 2006 and 2008.

Gary Soiseth, who is running for mayor, has taken a more critical view of Measure B. In an opinion piece for The Bee last month, Soiseth wrote that Turlock residents may see the street repairs only in the first and second years of the program because a county tax could cancel Measure B in two years.

“It’s disingenuous to ask Turlock residents to increase their sales tax knowing the revenue generated for ‘pothole repair’ could dramatically decrease,” Soiseth wrote.

Some believe Turlock would receive less revenue from a spending formula developed by the Stanislaus Council of Governments unless it lobbies for a bigger share.

Last month, an insert on Measure B in city utility bills contained information from www.fixturlockroads.com, which is promoting the measure. After the city was criticized for using public funds to sway voters, the city clerk sent copies of the insert to the Fair Political Practices Commission. An Oct. 1 email from the FPPC said the agency “won’t be pursuing the matter.”

Lazar said he thought the insert was informational.

Theis has led successful school bond campaigns and a 2004 city sales tax measure that narrowly failed. He said not every street in Turlock will be fixed over the seven-year life of Measure B, but the sales tax will provide a good start by raising more than $39 million over seven years.

The city has $65 million in deferred street maintenance.

The proposed ordinance includes a list of street repairs for each quadrant of the city. In the first two years, the city would resurface sections of Geer Road, Monte Vista Avenue, North Olive Avenue, Golden State Boulevard, Canal Drive, West Main Street and Lander Avenue, and perform work on numerous neighborhood streets and cul de sacs.

With maintenance work costing $4 per square yard, the city hopes to prolong the life of roadways and avoid reconstruction projects that can cost $60 per square yard.

Some significant work is scheduled for later years in the program, such as $657,000 in maintenance on Geer Road from California State University, Stanislaus, to Pedras Road, and East Monte Vista Avenue from North Olive Avenue to Berkeley Avenue. Repair work on West Hawkeye Avenue from Geer Road to North Golden State Boulevard is scheduled for years 4 through 7.

Lazar said the city can apply for state and federal grants for new street improvements that can’t be funded by Measure B.

Theis said Turlock leaders considered a parcel tax to raise money for roads. But with that type of tax, a person owning a small house would pay the same amount as an industrial plant that generates truck traffic.

“That does not make sense because it’s more regressive than a sales tax,” he said.

According to a disclosure, the campaign for Measure B had raised $27,020 in donations as of Sept. 30 and spent $11,345 on fliers, door hangers, advertising and postage.

The committee received $5,000 each from the Realtors Alliance for Proper Planning and the Northern California Carpenters Regional Council, $2,500 from the A. Teichert & Son construction firm, $2,000 from Samran & Sons Farming and $1,000 each from the Northern California District Council of Laborers, Turlock Scavenger Co. and Turlock Walnut Co.

It also collected $100 to $250 donations from 34 individual donors.

The ordinance and spending plan for the sales tax proposal can be viewed at www.ci.turlock.ca.us. Click on “city departments,” then “city clerk” and then “elections.”