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Local roads wish list to be crafted by cities
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City officials throughout the county from March to May will be developing a list of road maintenance projects they wish to see completed if and when voters in Stanislaus County pass a half-cent sales tax measure.

Voters appear to be poised to support a special tax for roads and transportation if they are supplied the specifics of where the tax money will be spent. The measure must receive a two-thirds majority of support, or 66 percent plus one, to pass.

Efforts to pass a roads tax failed in 2006 and 2008 in Stanislaus County after expenditure plans were formed without much voter input. The renewed effort has started backwards with the public asked to weigh in first, said Kendall Flint, a consult hired by the Stanislaus Council of Governments (StanCOG). She said 40 to 50 meetings have been held with the public to ask what they wanted "because sometimes there can be a disconnect between what we as planners or as transportation providers think someone wants and what they actually want."

Voters want specifics, the group found.

"Nobody is going to step for a tax if you're not going to tell them specifically what you're going to do with it," Flint told the Ceres City Council last week. "Not ‘we're going to kinda sorta' but specifically where the money is going to go and how the money is going to benefit the local community."

Voters are concerned about local control and spending money on their roads.

The tax would mean $1.5 and $1.6 million annually for Ceres to spend on road maintenance as well as bicycle and pedestrian projects and major transportation projects.

Top priorities identified in Ceres include filling potholes, improving response times for police and fire related to better streets, and safe routes to schools.

Residents also seem to desire point-to-point transportation services for seniors, veterans and disabled. The tax, she said, could result in a tripling of those services.

"People are also wanting to synchronize traffic signals to reduce congestion and, of course, increase safety along all highways."

Flint said 2016 is an opportune time for a general election ballot measure since the county and its cities are seeing a reduction in road monies from the state. Gas tax monies are falling short of need and the state is giving the local community about 10 percent back as opposed to the 30 to 40 percent it used to get. The state just dialed back tax revenues for roads by $750 million "which directly affects Stanislaus County with a number of projects."

A nationally based study on roads indicated that the Modesto metro area, or Stanislaus County, was 20th on the list of worst roads in the country, said Flint.

"If you don't fix these things when they're broken early, they wind up costing more money down the road to repair in the future."

A poll, said Flint, found that 66 percent of Ceres voters support the coming tax.

A survey indicated that the average motorist spends $562 and $712 annually on repairs, broken windshields and tires relating to road conditions. She said it's cheaper for the public to fix the roads than face such repairs.

StanCOG has outlined the following formula for the spending of special tax monies:

• 50 percent will be spent on road maintenance by each city and the county (or $1.2 to $1.3 million in Ceres);

• 5 percent will be spent on pedestrian and bike path programs (or $250,000 annually for Ceres);

• 10 percent on traffic management, such as traffic signalization to improving local intersections to reduce vehicle wait time;

• 28 percent to regional road construction projects such as corridor connections, the North County corridor, Highway 132 or others being proposed. The list will be defined in April or May;

• 7 percent for point-to-point services, better transit connections between unincorporated areas and services in Modesto, transit and some money for van connections to the Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) train rail.

By May or June residents in each city will be able to see a specific list of where tax revenues before the Board of Supervisors will be asked in July to place the matter on the November ballot.

"We believe we have a much better shot than we've had in previous years," said Flint.

An Oct. 15-21 phone survey of 153,723 likely voters by Godbe Research determined that support has grown in favor of a special 20-year tax, which would be spent on repairing roads, building new ones and providing for transportation needs of seniors. The survey taken recently indicated 64 percent of likely voters would vote for a measure raising taxes on sales in the county. Officials believe a two-thirds majority may be obtained by being specific.

At least 20.3 percent of the voters say they definitely would not support the tax while 9.8 percent said they probably won't.

Vice Mayor Mike Kline noted that while the tax doesn't allocated any money to helping get the ACE rail line extended from Lathrop/Manteca to Modesto and Merced, state Senator Anthony Cannella remains committed to the project through state channels. Cannella remains committed to having a Ceres station for the ACE train.

Including tax money to be spent on ACE train reduced voter enthusiasm for the tax measure and thus ACE funding was dropped.

Kline said San Joaquin County seems noncommittal in assisting getting the ACE train line to Ripon as if it's hoping Stanislaus and Merced counties help bankroll the project.