After months of research, the Turlock City Council has put the brakes on a proposed road tax – at least for now.
With a election filing deadline looming on Aug. 9, Councilmembers decided Tuesday to forego placing any new taxes on the November ballot.
“This issue is entirely too important for us to attempt to force-fit it, to make something happen by this November,” Councilman Bill DeHart said. “I think it may even be a push to get it for next June.”
Instead, the city will wait to see if Stanislaus County carries through with plans for a countywide road tax. That initiative is currently in development by the Stanislaus County Council of Governments, the regional transportation planning board, though the board is months from completing a proposal.
“I think the general agreement is, every city needs money for their own roads, but we also realize there should be a portion that goes to countywide projects,” Councilmember Forrest White, Turlock's representative to StanCOG, said. “I think the devil's in the details: how much?”
According to Stanislaus County Supervisor Vito Chiesa, a likely measure would see two or three regional projects – a north county corridor, a south county corridor, and Highway 132 – with the remainder of revenues dedicated to the cites to spend as they see fit. Details remain to be hammered out, though, and the entire plan could yet be scuttled if Modesto moves forward with plans for a city-specific general sales tax.
Turlock won't wait forever, though. A Turlock-specific road tax could return for the June or November 2014 ballot.
“We've got to do something with these roads,” Councilwomen Bill DeHart said
Based on public feedback, the City of Turlock would likely place a half-cent sales tax on the ballot. All proceeds would be dedicated to Turlock roads, unable to be spent for any other purpose.
That measure would raise $5 million to repair roads annually – less than the $10 million it would cost just to maintain roads at their current state. Turlock could leverage the $5 million to potentially obtain millions more in state grants, available only to cities which tax themselves, to make up the difference.
Placing a tax measure on the ballot would cost between $30,000 and $45,000, plus the cost of any related marketing campaign. But Turlock city staff believe that citizens will support a new tax if it will benefit the roads, based on feedback received during a series of public meetings.
“There was clearly an interest in seeing, from those who expressed their opinions, something done for the roads,” said City Manager Roy Wasden.
Roughly 60 people spoke at a total of four public meetings, held in the four quadrants of Turlock from May to June. Councilmember Amy Bublak, long an opponent of a road tax which she describes as a short-term fix, said that not enough feedback was gathered at the meetings to qualify as a valid opinion poll.
“You talk about 60 people and 73,000 population,” Bublak said. “That's not a significant outburst of, 'You know what, I want to pay for that.'”
Mayor John Lazar, the chief proponent of a road tax measure, reluctantly agreed that November was too soon. But he said that until a tax is passed, Turlock will continue to be a great city blighted by shoddy roads.
“I don't think there's anything wrong with putting it on the ballot and letting the citizens of Turlock decide,” Lazar said.
Councilmember Steven Nascimento was absent for Tuesday's meeting.