Road Tax Proposal Seeks Public Input

David Fransen

Mayor John Lazar set one major goal in his 2013 State of the City address: putting a new road maintenance tax before voters.

Over the next three months, Lazar will take that message to the people, as the city will hold a series of workshops across Turlock to discuss the pros and cons of a potential new transportation tax.

“It's easy not to do anything,” Lazar said. “It's tough to step out and make a decision, especially on this issue. No one likes taxes.”

But the time to act is now, Lazar said, with Turlock's streets in shoddy condition and deteriorating further each day. Meetings will be held in the next 90 days, though dates and locations are yet to be determined.

The question remains: Will the public support a transportation tax? And what sort of tax would Turlockers find most palatable?

"We want to make sure we're heading in a direction they're comfortable with,” said Turlock City Councilmember Steven Nascimento.

Not all Turlock City Councilmembers are comfortable with the transportation tax proposal. Though she agreed that Turlock's roads are in bad shape, Councilmember Amy Bublak said Tuesday was unsure of a potential transportation tax with other costs looming on the horizon.

Turlockers are likely in for a surge in water rates, should a new surface water treatment facility be constructed. And a proposed countywide public safety tax, funding expanded policing efforts, could further stress Turlockers' pocketbooks.

“We have to decide which is it we're going to go for, or are we going to go for all of them?” Bublak said.“ … Is it the roadways, is it safety, is it your water, or is it all of it?

“My interest is roadways,” Lazar said. “I think at a certain point you have to make a decision about what you want to get accomplished.”

Could be Sales or Property Tax

The specifics of a transportation tax are far from determined, but Turlock City Engineer Mike Pitcock provided some rough estimates Tuesday of what a transportation tax could look like.

Turlock has two main options: either a sales tax, or a property tax.

A half-cent sales tax, assessed on all taxable purchases within the city, would generate about $5 million annually. But while transportation taxes are common at the county level, they are virtually unheard of on a local level.

“As far as I've been able to tell, no city has a municipal sales tax for transportation,” said consultant Bill Berry, of William Berry Campaigns. “So you'd be charting new waters.”

Stanislaus County tried to pass a countywide transportation tax in 2008, but failed to reach the required two-third threshold for passage by fewer than 300 votes. The county is in the very early stages of considering another effort at a countywide tax, but such an effort is years off at best. Any Turlock tax would likely be written to sunset should a countywide measure be approved.

“They could never pass it, if we already had it,” Turlock City Councilmember Forrest White said. “… It would make it twice as hard.”

Should a parcel tax be passed instead, each property owner in Turlock could be assessed about $402 annually, raising roughly $8 million.

“My concern on the parcel tax is, it goes back to the people who use our roads but don't live here” White said, noting that Turlock is a major regional shopping destination. A sales tax would affect all who shop in Turlock.

A parcel tax could instead be assessed on a per-square footage basis, at a more-reasonable cost of $162 for a home on a 7,502 square foot lot. But large parcel owners would pay much, much more; a 10-acre parcel would translate to $9,400 in annual taxes.

“It's good for some but it's not so good for others,” Pitcock said.

The legality of levying property taxes by square footage is also currently in question.

Any property tax would likely replace benefit assessment districts, which see some Turlock residents pay annual taxes for road maintenance in their specific neighborhoods. The same example home would pay $177 in an average benefit assessment district. Sales taxes might come in addition to benefit assessment districts, but city staff said Turlockers would see the benefits of both with improved major roadways in addition to their neighborhood's continually maintained streets.

The funding raised from any tax wouldn't necessarily make Turlock's streets any better. A 2008 study found that it would cost $10 million annually just to maintain the current state of Turlock's roads.

But Turlock hopes it can leverage the money as a “self-help” city to qualify for millions more in state and federal grants. Currently, the city and county are ineligible for matching funds which could easily double Turlock's available funding for road repairs.

Roads in Rough Shape

By any measure, Turlock's roads are in bad condition. In a 2008 study which indexed all city streets based on pavement condition, Turlock averaged a 59 on the 100 point scale – a rating deemed only “acceptable.”

The rating was dragged down by the nearly 20 percent of roads in “poor” condition, scoring below a 25. Only 37 percent of streets were classified as good – above an 80.

At the time, analysts IMS Infrastructure Management Services estimated it would cost $92.35 million to bring Turlock's streets up to an average score of 80. But just to stay even at 59, Turlock would need to spend $10 million on roads annually.

Turlock's streets have only gotten worse since that 2008 study, as the city spends just $2 million on roads annually.

About $750,000 of that comes from federal grants, with another $750,000 coming from state grants. Most of that money is spent on major arterial and collector road repairs, so as to benefit the most drivers.

“Between the needs and the money available, there's just not enough,” Pitcock said.

The remaining $500,000 comes from taxpayers in benefit assessment districts, established in most Turlock subdivisions built since the early 1990s. That money, collected with property taxes, is dedicated to maintaining streets within the neighborhood with slurry seals every 7 years.

Though Pitcock said some Turlockers are frustrated by the maintenance performed on seemingly good roads while older parts of town have streets resembling cobblestone, the homeowners are essentially paying for their own street maintenance.

And maintaining roads which are already in a good state is much more cost efficient than fixing dilapidated byways. A slurry seal costs just 46 cents per square foot; a two-inch pavement overlay costs $2.30 per square foot, while a total reconstruction costs $5.60 per square foot.

“It's very imperative that we get to these roads when they are at the slurry seal stage,” Pitcock said. “… You get so much more bang for your buck.”

Because of that, Turlock may opt to slurry seal roads in good condition in the first years of any transportation tax to best utilize the income. No strategy has yet been adopted or proposed for how transportation tax revenue would be spent.

Though the challenges are many, Lazar believes Turlock must act quickly to hammer out the details and pursue a road tax.

“I think our odds are better now than if we wait later,” Lazar said. “If we don't move on this, I think we're lost.”

Comments 7

  1. RSanden says:

    I want to know what GUARANTEES we the people of Turlock get to PROVE any taxes (if there were to be one) will actually be used for ROADS ONLY!!! We hear during every election how this tax or that tax is only for a short time and will be used to fund this or that…only for the tax never to go away, and the money never gets used on the “PLANNED” project the tax was created for. Who is going to GUARANTEE this money is going to fund ONLY ROADS IN TURLOCK. How long will this tax last? 5 years, 10 years, or are they going to leave it open so we pay forever??? I dont support taxes when I see tons of overpaid politicians making 5 and 6 digit incomes and yet they ask we the over worked, over taxed people to yet pay out more money! We already have State and Federal Taxes for roads in California..one of the highest in the country! So why isn’t any of our elected officials going after that money??

  2. David Fransen says:

    I’ve posted on my facebook many times, and as recent as December 12, 2012, what would happen once someone like Mayor Lazar starts “asking” the citizens of Turlock about fixing the roads:
    “Way to prioritize spending our tax money! The reality of this is quite sad… here’s what’s going to happen from this posting and the previous, each proving people want the roads fixed and know what the priority SHOULD be; City Council Members may actually acknowledge the issue, and say that something needs to be done about this. That something will be a proposed tax hike on all of us to fix the roads, and they will reference our outcry as support for more taxes, instead of saying people want the City Council to prioritize and spend the current taxes we already pay on things so important such as the infrastructure to our society (roads). Yes, that means making tough decisions. The fact that the City offers recreations programs overseen by employees costing as much as $100,000/yr is ridiculous. I could fund raise and pay to have an entire t-ball league put together myself, WE can fund raise and run our own community recreation programs. WE can’t fix the roads, that’s our government’s job! But our government likes to do the fun things and the “feel good” projects, or the projects that get them pats on the backs or plaques on buildings with their name on them.

    Mark my words, this will all be manipulated and spun to show support for more taxes to fix roads when it should prove that our government has wasted money everything but the necessities. The City will say that because the road repair is $90,000,000 (or whatever the amount is now) behind that these cuts and funds put toward roads don’t mean anything. But it’s the principle, if they would not have neglected road maintenance for the last 20 years, we’d be in better shape.

    And if they try to make us pay more taxes, what was changed that we won’t be in the same situation 20 years from now.”

    • Gracie Olesen says:

      David:
      BET THE CITY OF TURLOCK AND THE COUNCIL MEMBERS WON’T LIKE THAT!! But you know it’s BS and I also know it’s BS.. One thing about Turlock City government “THEY SPEAK WITH FORKED TONGUE”!!!

  3. Gracie Olesen says:

    Maybe the city should of been fixing these older streets instead of fixing the same ones on the East side of town. And those speed bumps, I believe it was Mayor Curt Andre that had those put in cause his children had to walk home and he wanted people to slow down. I could be wrong and it could be the Mayor we have now. 😀 Turlock City Council is a joke!!!!

  4. Todd Anderson says:

    🙁 I believe that if we vote in a road tax, this city will continue to tax us for every other thing they haven’t planned for. Yes, some neighborhoods do actually pay for their upkeep, and that is fine, however, I see new streets at the new public safety center downtown, surprise, surprise. The good old boy attitude of this city still exists in many areas. I have been persistent over the years, encouraging this city to invest in itself and purchase locally, as well as use local contractors, to keep dollars local and the city economy healthier. Good luck to the Council selling this one. I vow to fight them all the way in their effort to add this tax in a time when we are taxed to death.

  5. Wil Mathews says:

    Hello, I do agree that the road in Turlock are in poor conditions, however, adding a new tax to my already over taxed household is not ok with me! I see many “feel good” programs here in Turlock that has taken priority over the essentials for the city of Turlock. The beautification project on Golden state… really? How about fixing the roads in front of the college first… Turlock needs to spend the money it gets from taxes wisely.

  6. SMOKE AND MIRRORS says:

    1/2 cent sales tax to fix the roads or the City of Turlock will attempt to impose a property assessment fee of approximately $400.00 per parcel says the Great Oz. I agree the roads in Turlock need to be maintained to an average condition but I have a hard time believing funds generated through raising taxes or assessments will fund Turlock City roads. With a ever increasing general fund, wastewater account profits, out of control administrator and management wages, special programs and strategic plans, I see this new message of doom and gloom is using the same smoke and mirrors charade the city has used for years. “We’re hurting and on hard times. Everyone needs to do their part through concessions and higher taxes”. I say NO to higher taxes, assessments and need be, I’ll shop out of the city for my purchases. Ceres is only a couple of mile away and the roads to their location are paved with a savings.

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