Editorials

Here’s why Oakdale has earned voters’ trust for higher sales tax

The Kmart in Oakdale, Calif. is pictured Tuesday Sept. 3, 2019. The company announced the location will close by mid-December.
The Kmart in Oakdale, Calif. is pictured Tuesday Sept. 3, 2019. The company announced the location will close by mid-December. mrowland@modbee.com

Voters in Oakdale should embrace Measure H in November (look for absentee ballots to arrive in the mail after Oct. 10) to avoid a serious reduction in important city services, including police and fire protection.

Without the extra money by extending this half-cent sales surtax, which voters first approved in 2011, Oakdale’s senior center, community center and swimming pool, and some street lights, could be at risk as well. A fire station probably would close, and City Hall might have to lay off a half-dozen police officers among a force of 23, and four or five firefighters.

That would be more tragic than Oakdale losing its Kmart. In fact, the two are related.

Oakdale counts on sales tax as a significant revenue source, like many government agencies. Years ago, city leaders laid the groundwork for more stores, particularly at its east and west ends, hoping for a boost to city coffers. But so far, that dream has not materialized.

Even worse was recent news that Kmart, the city’s largest store, will close by year’s end. Also, it’s a fair bet the North County Corridor, a future highway allowing vehicles to bypass Oakdale, will mean even less sales tax revenue because many people will simply motor around the city rather than driving through and perhaps stopping for a burger or gas.

Opinion

So Oakdale needs to capture as much as it can from this dwindling revenue source, or its residents will suffer.

Fortunately, a majority saw fit — in 2011, and again in 2014 — to pay a little more when they spend money in town. People pay 5 cents more for something priced at $10, 50 cents for a $100 item, and so on.

The surtax brings $1.9 million a year to Oakdale coffers, amounting to 16 percent of the city’s general fund. With 23,807 residents, according to the latest California Department of Finance estimate, that’s an extra $79.80 a year per person, although it’s not really that much because people who stop and spend while driving through to the mountains or Yosemite account for some portion.

In its eight years, the surtax has brought an extra $15.2 million to City Hall, helping to keep people safe and keeping the lights on. That’s no small change.

It’s true that Oakdale and Ceres, with a similar surtax, have a higher sales tax rate — 8.375% — than anywhere else in the county, where people pay 7.875%.

But Oakdale residents haven’t seemed to mind. They approved Measure O in 2011 (it gets a different name every time, assigned by county elections officers) with 55.4% of the vote; three years later, confidence surged as Measure Y passed with an impressive 74%. This year, Measure H — which would extend the tax 11 years — has no formal opposition.

It’s clear that voters understand how important this is to the health of their city.

“We showed that we properly used the money,” said Mike Eggener, a member of the oversight committee keeping an eye on tax proceeds. Oakdale’s is a general purpose tax, meaning city officials can spend it any way they choose and it requires a simple majority to pass; a dedicated tax, on the other hand, has strict spending restrictions and requires a two-thirds majority.

Oakdale officials had vowed to focus on public safety, and they’ve kept that promise, spending 97% of surtax proceeds on police and fire protection and street lights in the past fiscal year, and 98% the year before.

That kind of performance earns people’s trust, and an endorsement from The Modesto Bee.

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