Digging up dollars for craggy Turlock streets

Hedstrom Road in north Turlock was singled out by Turlock City Councilman Bill DeHart as a street seriously in need of city help in a debate over more spending on roads on Tuesday, July 12.
Hedstrom Road in north Turlock was singled out by Turlock City Councilman Bill DeHart as a street seriously in need of city help in a debate over more spending on roads on Tuesday, July 12. naustin@modbee.com

Two rows of tidy lawns and mature trees along Hedstrom Road testify to the care of homeowners, but between the sidewalks the crumbling asphalt of their city street tells a different story, of benign neglect and wary taxpayers.

The Turlock City Council decided Tuesday to take up the issue of road repairs Aug. 9, looking at bypassing other plans or digging further into savings to put $100,000 toward the estimated need of $90 million. Hedstrom Road came up as a needy case in point.

But staff and speakers made clear Tuesday night the city’s only realistic hope lies with the Stanislaus County road tax initiative in November. The tax would raise some money, but its real worth would be to qualify Stanislaus to receive tens of millions of dollars in state transportation funding that now goes to other counties.

Calling Turlock roads “frankly atrocious,” Councilman Bill DeHart said the $100,000 a year would not do much. “It ends up being a placeholder,” he said. Passing the tax in November, he added, “That’s a game changer. Without that, nothing matters.”

There are 19 so-called self-help counties that have passed transportation taxes, including Fresno, San Joaquin and all of Southern California, pushing them to the front of the line for state and federal funding.

“We don’t have the money from the state is the bottom line,” said former Councilwoman Mary Jackson. “People do not understand that the state has taken our money for the last 25-30 years and – nobody gets it – until the community understands if you’re not a self-help county, we don’t get state money. We don’t get federal funding. That’s what you need to be talking about.”

The $100,000 proposed as an annual addition by Councilwoman Amy Bublak, she called “a drop in the $90 million bucket.”

“Does it really accomplish a lot?” asked Milt Triewiler, suggesting the city devote that money to potholes, where it might go farther.

It is not enough, Bublak conceded. But, she said, “We have to do something.”

Councilman Steven Nascimento agreed, but warned against pulling more from savings. “I think as a council, if we’re going to be honest, and say that roads are a priority, they need to be included in the budget,” he said.

“I think we have to identify somewhere in our current budget where we’re willing to take these funds from. I don’t think it makes sense to go into reserves to fund this,” Nascimento said.

Turlock voters to date have declined to pay more to fix the roads, with the latest road tax measure falling 5 percent (822 votes) short of passage in 2014. The initiative planned for November would raise countywide road funds local leaders have said cities could choose to put toward their own roads or devote to cross-county routes.

Nan Austin: 209-578-2339, @NanAustin

Turlock Council Watch

In other business, the City Council:

  • Heard about special event disaster preparation training around the city Santa parade held every December taken by Turlock city departments, health providers, businesses and utilities at Covenant Village of Turlock. “It really opened our eyes to be sure we’re looking at the bigger picture,” said recreation supervisor Karen Packwood. “The Christmas Parade is a pretty big deal for our town. Last year we had an estimated 30,000 people coming to our downtown to partake in our parade.”
  • Got an update on the Turlock Fire Department training grounds from engineer Kevin Tidwell. A live fire training building and a tower, both long out of service, are being demolished for a stacked container structure allowing more types of training. Follow TFD on Facebook at Turlock Fire Department and on Twitter @TurlockFire.
  • Agreed Turlock watering restrictions will remain at two days a week. Water use in June was 13 percent below the previous year, said Municipal Services Director Michael Cooke, but failed to meet the 16 percent state requirement or 20 percent threshold he is advising because of the city’s dependence on groundwater.