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City: put road tax on ballot
Members of the Ceres City Council agreed in concept to a formula for sharing tax revenues should county voters approve a half-cent sales tax measure for local roads.

The new funding formula was forged Friday when city managers of all nine cities and the county's chief executive officer decided on the most equitable way of slicing up the money pie. Officials are hopeful that all cities sign on to the concept like Ceres did on Monday.

In November 2006 county voters rejected a half-cent sales tax in Measure K. The proposal, which was vastly different in scope, received 58 percent approval, falling short of the 66 percent plus one vote for passage.

Vince Harris, executive director of the Stanislaus Council of Governments (StanCOG), said his agency would like to move on a fast time table to get the new measure before the voters on the presidential election ballot on Nov. 4.

The new ballot measure, in concept, calls for a 20-year tax instead of the 30-year term on the old measure. Measure K would have generated $1.02 billion but the new measure would raise an estimated $700 million.

Half of the funds would be spent on local road maintenance and spent as the cities and county see fit, while the other half would be used to construct new roads. The formula would give Ceres $27.6 million for local road maintenance.

The city of Ceres would also benefit from having a major project - the Service/Mitchell/99 interchange project - including in the capital corridor program.

The pot of money for new road projects is being split into three areas: northern, central and southern corridors. The Service/Mitchell/99 interchange project would take a $21 million chunk of the central corridor monies. Ceres officials asked for $62 million for Service/Mitchell.

Ceres Mayor Anthony Cannella said $21 million for the Service/Mitchell project would enable the city to be eligible for matching state road grants combined with developer fees set aside for the project.

"This gives us a real boost to build that interchange," said Cannella.

He noted that Stanislaus County is seriously lacking in road monies and said of the latest formula: "Although it's not perfect, it's pretty fair."

"I believe this is a very good plan, not just for Ceres but the county," Supervisor Jim DeMartini told the council on Monday. "Ceres comes out very well on this."

He said the county is giving up close to $40 million in revenues to cities "just to get this thing through."

Vice Mayor Chris Vierra said he wanted to "at least let the voters decide if they want to move forward with a half-cent sales tax." He said likened getting all the cities and county to agree on a formula was a bit like "herding cats to get all on the same page."

"I think this is a need," said Councilman Ken Lane. "We would not be doing the citizens justice if we did not put this before them."

He also suggested a better campaign than the one for Measure K.

All nine city councils are being asked to weigh in before StanCOG's policy board meets on Feb. 13, said Harris.

The sharing formula is based on the higher of figures based on population and sales tax, minus two percent for the county.