The Turlock City Council held a special workshop before their last Tuesday evening Council Meeting to examine various sources of funding to help improve the roadway system in Turlock.
There have been many public concerns about the conditions of the roadway system in Turlock. At the beginning of the meeting during the public participation portion of the meeting agenda, Turlock citizen David Fransen and Turlock City Council Candidate Sergio Alvarado expressed their concerns regarding the worsening road conditions within the city.
Fransen asked that the City Council include Streets in the General Fund budget where currently the City of Turlock budgets $0 for streets but rather spends money on many other areas such as Police, Fire, Parks, Recreation, and such. Fransen said that he knows even if Council put 5% of the General Fund budget toward Streets that people would say that won’t even put a dent in the need, but at least it would be something, and that Turlock needs to start somewhere because if Turlock would’ve done this for the last 20 years the city wouldn’t be in this situation.
Council Candidate Sergio Alvarado agreed with Fransen and the prioritization of funding for streets.
“I love Turlock, but the roads have diminished the beauty Turlock has,” stated Alvarado. “The four years I’ve lived here, to only see Canal Road being repaved, that’s not enough. We have 70,000 people here, we deserve better roads and that’s why we need to prioritize the money that we’re supposed to be spending on streets only goes to streets.”
In reference to spending $0 of the General Fund budget on Streets, Alvarado thought that was “crazy.”
Turlock City Engineer Mike Pitcock presented to the City Council and public information regarding Turlock’s road conditions and funding options.
With many roads deteriorating from lack of repairs, the City of Turlock would currently have to spend $10 million annually in order to prevent future road decay. The City of Turlock currently spends an estimated $1.7 million annually on road maintenance, and has no additional funding available.
In 2008, a roadway assessment showed that Turlock’s roads averaged a 59 on a 100-point scale. This score was considered “satisfactory”, however, was below the 80 point target value. In order to bring Turlock’s roads to the targeted 80 point level, the City of Turlock would have to spend an estimated $92 million today, as according the 2008 assessment report, with an additional $5 million annually.
The 2008 Report showed that 19.6% of Turlock Streets were rated as “Poor”, 17.9% rated “Fair”, 25.5% rated “Satisfactory”, and 37% were rated as “Good”.
Monte Vista Avenue, between Crowell Road and Geer Road, has long been a concern of many local citizens with the amount of road deterioration and potholes. According to city staff, the repairs needed in this area would cost only about $182,000 if the pavement had been better maintained. Today, however, an asphalt overly will cost the City $864,000. If the road’s decaying condition continues to the point of requiring total reconstruction of the road, the cost would increase to a staggering $2.1 million.
Turlock currently only receives approximately $1.1 million of the $12 million in gas tax revenue, with majority of that dedicated solely to safety work, such as pothole repairs and road striping. Turlock receives $1.5 million in state and federal grants, which provides Turlock’s only discretionary road spending.
Where exactly does your gas taxes go?
The excise tax on each gallon of gasoline is 36.4 cents. Federal Gas Tax (Transportation programs) gets 18.4 cents, State and Regional Transportation gets 11.54 cents, County Transportation gets 3.04 cents, County/City Transportation gets 1.04 cents, and City Transportation gets 2.35 cents, equating to $1.1 million in gas taxes received annually by the City of Turlock.
The workshop examined three alternatives to produce adequate revenues to help provide better maintenance of Turlock’s streets.
One of the options for Turlock is to pursue a citywide benefit assessment district, or a per-parcel tax. This tax would require each lot pay an average of $402 in taxes yearly. This option could be applied either comprehensively, or weighted by property size.
Pitcock, who is also the Director of Development Services for the City of Turlock, showed interest in pursuing a new half-cent sales tax, as it would generate about $5 million per year.
The half-cent sales tax would be proportionate based on incomes and taxes could also be paid by those who live outside the City yet use the city’s roadways. This option would allow the City of Turlock to qualify to apply for additional state funding, as most state and federal grants are currently reserved for “self-help” cities, which tax themselves for needed road repairs and improvements.
Councilwoman Mary Jackson spoke in favor of the half-cent sales tax, while showing understanding that it will be difficult to pass in the current economy.
“At StanCOG we discussed that we cannot ask the voters in this community for another half-cent sales tax because it’s not going to fly in this economy and it’s disrespectful to them,” explained Councilwoman Jackson. “In my opinion, until we either change the way the state and federal grants are given out or become a half cent sales tax, we’re really stuck in a hard place.”
“Sadly I don’t like the way the equation is written to get the state and federal grants, but that’s the way it is,” stated Councilwoman Jackson. “But until we become a half cent sales tax, which has been going on for years, and by not being able to access that state and federal money, we’re giving it away to other communities.”
“On average to pass a half cent sales tax for transportation is on average three times. We lost in 2008 by less than 300 votes and this is our second attempt,” stated Councilwoman Jackson. “In my opinion, which I have voiced loudly at StanCOG, we didn’t really do a good media campaign. And I’m going to be brutally honest, when Mike is saying we’re not able to get other funding opportunities, we’re talking about millions and millions of state and federal money.”
Turlock could also alternatively pass a general-purpose tax, with the collection going towards the General Fund for reapportionment at a later time, with a majority vote. This option, however, would not be likely to quality Turlock as a “self-help” city, and therefore would not allow the City to qualify for additional state or federal grants.
The final alternative could allow Turlock instead to contribute funding from the General Fund budget, which comes from the discretionary sales tax dollars collected by the City of Turlock. This option, however, could result in various problems as the General Fund has already been worn down as a result of diminishing tax revenues. This option could also hinder the City of Turlock to qualify as a “self-help” city to receive the additional state and federal grants.
Councilman Forrest White sought clarification on the term “self-help” and the classification of a “self-help” city.
“You use the word ‘self-help’. Self-help doesn’t mean that you need to tax yourself,” stated Councilman White. “Self-help the way I understand it is self-help…you’re expending dollars that are in your General Fund. Now you can either tax dollars or use general fund dollars.”
Councilman White admitted that although he might not be clear on the definition of a “self-help” city, he was certain that the City is far behind on improvements.
“I could be wrong but that’s what I’m trying to understand. I think we’re way behind self-help…we should have been self-helping ourselves over the past 20 years,” stated Councilman White.
In summary, the workshop suggested that the City is currently not investing enough money in road maintenance to maintain nor improve the street network. As the streets continue to degrade, the cost for improvements goes up exponentially. The parcel tax/city-wide assessment district would put costs on property owners in Turlock, and city staff presumes the community at large could receive it poorly.
City Staff suggested that the best option would be the half cent sales tax, as the combination of the tax, current funding, becoming a self help community and using more innovative construction methods, should get the City to the point of status quo, or at least very close.
City of Ceres City Engineer, and Turlock Resident, Toby Wells was in attendance and used the workshop as an opportunity to share his support for the half-cent sales tax and expertise on the subject matter to the City Council.
“The bottom line is if we don’t help ourselves, we’re never going to get the money, it’s that simple,” stated Wells. “The opportunity that is faced in the City of Turlock, I really think it should be a county wide level, but I don’t think there’s the support there yet. Start it here in Turlock.”
“We really need to move forward, it’s way past due. I know there’s distrust from the community, but the education process needs to educate the people on what those dollars are for and what we can and can’t spend them for,” stated Wells. “Again, I just implore you to move forward because if we don’t do the sales tax, it’s not going to come.”
The City of Turlock is expected to conduct a survey of local residents to determine the support for the potential new tax initiative. The study would cost an estimated $9,000 – $15,000.
The potential tax initiative will be further discussed at the next City Council meeting, which is to be held on Tuesday April 24th at 7pm at City Hall, located at 156 S. Broadway.