The Turlock City Council Meeting on April 24, 2012, brought forth some concern from Council Members regarding a half-cent sales tax initiative to be set before Turlock voters on the November ballot for roadway repair.
The motion on the agenda came from the recent Roads Workshop the City held on April 10, 2012, regarding the conditions of the City’s streets and the current funding levels dedicated to street maintenance.
One of the funding options discussed at the Roads Workshop was that of a half-cent sales tax initiative to provide money to be solely dedicated for road repairs and maintenance, an area that currently receives zero General Fund monies.
Although countywide efforts to pass a similar tax have failed in the past, city officials have been considering asking for the half-cent sales tax that would remain within the City of Turlock.
Many city officials and staff view the half-cent sales tax favorably, as it would allow the City of Turlock to qualify as a ‘self-help’ city to receive additional state and federal funds to dedicate towards the roadway system.
Development Services Director Mike Pitcock reported that such state and federal funds will match dollar for dollar the amount the source dollar pledges to a project, however, the source dollar must be from a transportation tax or fee that qualifies the source for the grant.
City Council Members, although in favor of the tax, shared concern that voters would not view the tax in the same manner, unless there is adequate public education on the benefit of the new tax initiative between now and the November election.
“My concern is that it is almost May and we have a huge education to provide for the community before we put it on the November ballot,” shared Councilwoman Mary Jackson. “You need to be united if you want to pass this,” stated Jackson. “If we go through with this, then we all need to be behind it.”
Turlock City Council Candidate Sergio Alvarado spoke to the council during the public comment period to share his concerns regarding the tax being on the ballot.
“I know that I’m not the only person in this room that doesn’t like new taxes, or increasing taxes,” stated Alvarado. “To go from zero dollars being spent from the General Fund to asking for a half-cent sales tax is crazy.”
“I would support the tax just because I have complained about the roads,” continued Alvarado. “However, I would like to see use of the General Fund.”
Councilman Bill DeHart also showed concern over the voter’s response to a new tax initiative being placed on the November ballot.
“In our general economic climate and general distrust in the government, we’re going to be hard pressed to put something on that ballot that people are going to respond to favorably,” explained DeHart. “We need to be very careful in how we approach the issue.”
DeHart also commented on the importance of a public education effort regarding roadway repair funding before placing it on the ballot.
“Do we need the funds to fix the roads? Absolutely,” stated DeHart. “But what the voters may be telling us is to ‘put your money where your mouth is.’ Obviously we understand that there are dollars that need to be used in a certain way, but that is part of the education process.”
Turlock Mayor John Lazar, however, demonstrated a commitment to getting the measure on the ballot.
“I think we’re going to the voters with a trust issue,” explained Lazar. “It’s something I’m willing to expend political capital for, because at the end of the day, I’m just asking for it to be on the ballot. That way when people ask about the condition of the roads, you can at least say we tried. At least we put it on the ballot, even if it fails. It doesn’t sound like we have much support to go forward, but that’s my opinion.”
Mayor Lazar also expressed the importance of being qualified as a “self-help” city.
“I’m tired of relying on outside sources that don’t follow through,” stated Lazar.
City staff planned on conducting a survey of Turlock citizens to get a better perspective on how well the half-cent sales tax initiative would do on the November ballot, however, the official survey cost ranged anywhere between $10,000-$20,000.
“I’m curious to hear what the people of Turlock have to say about the roads and the half-cent sales tax,” stated Councilwoman Mary Jackson. “I want to support a study, but I don’t want to spend an atrocious amount of money on it.”
The City Council Members agreed to contact California State University Stanislaus to see if a less expensive survey could be conducted through the institution.
The Council made a unanimous vote to readdress the issue when a true cost of a survey could be presented, including the possibility of a less expensive survey through the university.
The issue is expected to be readdressed on the May 22nd City Council meeting.