The Stanislaus County Civil Grand Jury (SCCGJ) recently released “Is Measure L Measuring Up? A special sales tax review of city and county road improvements,” the results of its investigation into local jurisdictions’ use of Measure L funds.
It found that all three cities it studied, including Patterson, were in compliance, and described Measure L as “an efficient program that operates like a well-oiled machine and constitutes an important economic benefit to the county.”
Measure L is the 25-year, one-half cent special sales tax approved by voters in 2016, funds from which may only be used by local jurisdictions for road maintenance and repair. Stanislaus County was one of over 20 California counties that signed up to participate in Measure L, which allows counties access to a larger share of future local, state and federal transportation funding opportunities, which they distribute to local jurisdictions. All Measure L funds generated by this special sales tax in Stanislaus County stay in the county, and are spent only on street maintenance and repair. No new roads can be funded with Measure L revenue, the report said. The cities must continue to use their own general fund monies for road maintenance and repair projects, using Measure L funds to help fill in the gaps.
Local jurisdictions have been receiving monthly distributions since June, 2017.
The report concluded that “Local jurisdictions are the big winners by the passage of Measure L. Cities that have gone years with no or very little access to general funds for transportation projects such as street and road maintenance, traffic management and bike and pedestrian upgrades, now are reaping the benefits of the Measure L special transportation sales tax. Long-awaited projects can be planned, implemented and completed, improving a city’s appearance and attractiveness. In addition, city residents can see the extra one-half cent sales tax increase at work.”
Years of neglect in road repair and maintenance, not only in Stanislaus County but statewide, have created a critical need for additional transportation funds, the report noted. California was rated 42nd in highway road performance and cost-effectiveness, and 46th in “urban interstate pavement conditions.” The cost to make all currently necessary but unfunded repairs in the coming decade will be about $135 billion.
SB1 increased the state’s gas tax by $.12 per gallon, from 34.7 cents per gallon to 46.7 cents, with local jurisdictions receiving a share to spend on road maintenance. However, a number of factors continue to cause local road networks to decline, including aging infrastructure, rising construction costs and budget constraints. Cities studied
The report focused on the cities of Patterson, Turlock and Ceres, based on a combination of location, relationship to other cities, city dynamics and population. Patterson was chosen because it is one of the fastest-growing cities in the county. Turlock is the second-largest city in the county, and Ceres is “representative of smaller communities in the surrounding areas,” the report said.
The investigation, spurred by “various stories, opinion pieces, and letters-to-the-editor in local newspapers and online sources,” was intended to determine whether Measure L special sales tax dollars are being spent as intended. “Taxpayers often question if government decision-making exists for the benefit of the public; the SCCGJ wondered the same,” the body wrote in the summary.
Public lack of familiarity with how government capital projects work played at least a part in the public perception that not much was happening, as the construction part of planned projects had to wait, while jurisdictions accrued funds, completed any needed design work and / or waited for available contractor(s), the SCCGJ found.
Measure L Agencies Several agencies are responsible for managing various aspects of Measure L funds, beginning with the California Board of Equalization, which distributes them locally to StanCOG, which acts as a pass through agency, receiving the monthly sales tax revenue and distributing it to local jurisdictions.
StanCOG does not have control or oversight of local jurisdictions’ projects.” The entity receives a one percent fee in return for managing the funds and records. Such a fee and percentage are common in these circumstances.
Local jurisdictions have control over 65 percent of the tax revenue, which must be allocated to several categories by percentage. The remaining 35 percent is allotted to regional projects and transit providers at 28 and seven percent, respectively.
Measure L was written so that the revenue collected from the quarter-cent sales can only be spent on transportation / traffic-related maintenance and repair projects. The city is required to allocate the funds as follows:
n Local streets and roads, 50 percent
n Regional projects, 28 percent
n Traffic management, 10 percent
n Transit providers, seven percent
n Bike and pedestrian, five percent
The city must also post signage at Measure L-funded projects.
Maintenance of Effort
Local jurisdictions are also required to continue their own efforts to fund street maintenance and repair, which is spelled out in the Maintenance of Effort (MOE) requirement. Local jurisdictions cannot spend less of their general fund monies “for transportation purposes; i.e., street maintenance and repairs) than the average of what they’ve spent in that category over the last three years.
Ceres and Turlock MOE showed $0 general fund monies spent on road maintenance, traffic management and bike / pedestrian safety in the three prior fiscal years.
Patterson’s three-year average was $427,727.
Local jurisdictions are required to provide frequent reports to StanCOG on the revenue received from Measure L and the projects will fund.
Additionally, the Measure L Oversight Committee, which includes representatives from all nine cities in the county as well as the County of Stanislaus, is responsible for reviewing an independent financial audit of the funds the various jurisdictions have spent on maintenance projects. The committee evaluates the financial reports only, and does not make policies.
Members of the committee are not permitted to be members of any other authority or StanCOG committee(s).
The report indicates that the population is expected to increase by just under a third between now and 2040. Increases in population and housing also put pressure on local road networks, the report points out.
Of the three cities, Patterson, which has received just over $1.3 million in Measure L funds, was the only one whose FY 17/18 Local Jurisdiction Funds Received report agreed with StanCOG’s records (the other two were most likely due to accounting timing issues, and are expected to be resolved in the annual audit, the report noted).