The time to “wait and hope” for a fix to Turlock's tattered roadways is over, Mayor John Lazar said Wednesday during his State of the City address.
Turlock must take matters into its own hands, Lazar said, pursuing a ballot measure for a new tax dedicated to road maintenance.
“For too long we have waited for some county, state or federal initiative to improve our transportation systems,” Lazar said “… I would like to explore the idea of placing some type of special road maintenance measure on the Turlock ballot for residents to give us the tools to fix our streets.”
The announcement comes just days after Stanislaus County abandoned plans to pursue a countywide transportation tax initiative. The measure was not polling favorably among voters.
But Turlock's roads need fixes now, Lazar said during his roughly 15 minute address, delivered as part of the Turlock Chamber of Commerce's annual membership breakfast. Without a new, dedicated source of revenue, the city cannot afford needed repairs.
Repairing even a mile-long stretch of roadway can cost millions and the State of California has systematically withheld locally generated road tax dollars for years. Stanislaus County sees about 11 cents back for every dollar in road taxes collected, according to County Supervisor Vito Chiesa.
“Now is the time to act, and I hope the voters of Turlock are ready to consider this request,” Lazar said.
Lazar said better roads would improve public safety, while reducing Turlockers' vehicle maintenance costs.
Economy Major Focus, Too
Lazar also called for expanding job growth in Turlock, announcing a new Mayor's Initiative on Economic Development. Lazar did not elaborate on the initiative, but said it will be brought before the Turlock City Council in the near future.
“I believe more than ever this City Council is ready to work to enlighten Turlock's business climate,” Lazar said.
Unlike a year ago, Lazar made no surprise business announcements Wednesday. Last year, Lazar broke news of Old Navy and Ulta's impending arrival during his State of the City address.
But Lazar did note the successes of Old Navy, The Olive Garden and other new retailers. About 400 new jobs were added in Turlock last year, with Blue Diamond Growers' new, 500,000 square foot almond processing facility expected to add another 123 jobs this year.
“These job gains are a reflection of the commitment of the city council in doing all we can to create a business friendly environment and continuing to strengthen our jobs-housing balance,” Lazar said.
One initiative which aided in that job growth was Turlock's Business Partnership Incentives Program. The program, spearheaded by Councilmember Amy Bublak and Chamber CEO Sharon Silva, offers $1,000 to new businesses opening in existing storefronts. The program has created 58 new jobs, and more than 28 new businesses since 2011.
All those new businesses – combined with a rebounding economy – bode well for Turlock's fiscal picture. Lazar projected that sales tax will recover this year, while property tax revenues will stabilize.
Local businesses are seeing similar results, according to Lazar. City staff met with ten of the top 25 sales tax producers in Turlock to discuss the local business climate; each said that year-to-date sales have surpassed expectations, and that they anticipate further growth this year.
“As I indicated earlier, I believe Turlock has turned the economic corner,” Lazar said. “We continue to see our local economy move in a positive direction.”
Lazar credited Turlock's good planning for the city's economic resurgence, both in terms of land use and building a strong reserve. Turlock's land use planning took another step forward last year, he noted, with the passage of a new General Plan – a document that will guide Turlock's growth for the next 20 years.
Turlock survived the recession with $13.6 million savings left over. Lazar said the city will look to further improve efficiency, building reserves back up for the next dry years.
Other Successes, Challenges Noted
Lazar pointed out major successes of the year past, from the construction of the Public Safety Facility to a fifth consecutive year of fewer major crimes, and a Turlock Firefighter effort selling pink t-shirts to raise breast cancer awareness, which raised $18,000 for Emanuel Medical Center. Lazar also noted major entertainment venues in town, from the Carnegie Arts Center to the Turlock Community Theatre and the Christmas parade, which draw thousands to Turlock.
And Lazar couldn't go without commending San Francisco 49er Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, a Pitman High School graduate.
“I think I speak for many Turlockers when I say we enjoyed sharing the national spotlight with our very own Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers,” Lazar said. “His rise to fame over the past few months has catapulted Turlock to global media attention.”
Challenges remain for Turlock. The city is working to develop a surface water treatment plant in partnership with the Turlock Irrigation District and the Cities of Modesto and Ceres, securing a long-term source of drinking water for Turlock. And the budget has yet to be balanced for 2013-2014.
But Lazar said Turlock has much to be thankful for, crediting the community and God for the recent successes Turlock has seen.
"God bless the state of our city,” Lazar said, closing his address. “Thank you very much."