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Round #2 for zip code change ballot
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For decades it's been one of the most confusing aspects of life in north Ceres: Homes that are in the city of Ceres but have Modesto mailing addresses.

The city of Ceres is again spearheading U.S. Postal Service balloting to change the Modesto 95351 zip code area north of Hatch Road to the Tuolumne River to Ceres 95307. The proposed boundary change stretches between Mitchell Road and Herndon Road.

The USPS sent out a ballot to each of the affected 3,511 addresses on Feb. 27. Marked ballots must be returned to Sacramento postal headquarters by Friday to be counted. According to Betina McCoy, the assistant to City Manager Brad Kilger, 850 marked ballots had been returned as of March 11. So far an estimated 260 of the ballots came back as non-deliverable.

On Wednesday a Sacramento postal official will come to Ceres City Hall to count the ballots with city staff. If a simple majority of the returned ballots prevails, the zip code would be changed on July 1, 2009.

City officials have wanted to see the zip code change since the 1980s. They learned that the confusing zip code issue caused the city of Ceres to be shortchanged of tax revenue from a number of Hatch Road stores. Tax revenues from those locations were being wrongly sent to Modesto city coffers. The city also asserts that some residents of Ceres also mistaken in believing they live in Modesto because of the 95351 zip code.

The issue goes back to the days when the area between Hatch Road and the river was part of the unincorporated county jurisdiction. Because it was a rural area, it was a part of the Modesto postal delivery system. With each annexation from the county to Ceres, the Modesto zip code made less and less sense, say city officials.

Residents in the 95351 area of Ceres have to travel all the way to the Paradise post office to retrieve packages or registered packages that require a signature. That's inconvenient to many - including Mayor Anthony Cannella - who could do their business at the Ceres post office much closer to home.

"From a practical standpoint we can drive to the Ceres post office to get our mail," said Cannella. "Every time I get something certified mail or a delivery, I have to drive out to the Paradise post office to get it. Quite frankly it's a pain as far as I'm concerned."

Cannella said from a "more philosophical standpoint, we live in the city of Ceres. We don't live in Modesto and I think just for civic pride I want to have Ceres, California 95307 on my address versus Modesto. We live in Ceres and we should be called Ceres."

The mayor said the change would eliminate a lot of confusion among newcomers to the area north of Hatch Road who may call Modesto City Hall for issues on account of the address leading them to believe they reside in Modesto instead of Ceres.

"If we clean it up, make it Ceres, California, there's no question. If they need help, they know who to call."

A city-led attempt to get the zip code change failed in September 1994. Of the 2,374 ballots that went out, only 55 were returned. Patrons rejected the change by a margin of 959 to 278 votes.

Cannella said he's optimistic that the zip change will go through this time but said he's taken calls from people who are "not happy" that the change is being proposed again.

"My position is, look, hey, we're taking it to the people and letting them decide," said Cannella. "I think it's going to pass. It should pass."

Those opposed have mentioned the hassle of changing stationery and checks, he said.

"Obviously it's going to be a pain initially," said Cannella. "We'll have to change our letterhead. We have to go to the bank and change all of our information on our checks. From their perspective, from the complaints I've had, they don't really see a need."

The City Council in 2005 decided to ramp up efforts again. The quest to change the zip code issue was launched at a special study session in June 2006.

McCoy said the city conducted a mail survey last May and that 20 percent came back filled out. Of those who replied sentiments were split 50-50, she said.

Originally the city wanted to exclude the addresses of those living north of River Road because of heavy resistance but postal authorities vetoed the idea.