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Ad Hoc Committee To Explore Sales Tax Increase
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In an illustration of “politics makes strange bedfellows,” the Oakdale City Council appointed two community members known for being on opposite sides of issues to co-chair an ad hoc committee on exploring a sales tax increase for the city to cover its recent deficits and cuts.

Former Councilmember Mickey Peabody and Oakdale Irrigation District board member Frank Clark made a joint presentation to the council on Monday, April 4 requesting the formation of the committee to explore the possibility of putting a sales tax initiative on the November ballot.

“I had friends calling me saying they couldn’t believe they saw me and Frank at the podium together for the same issue,” Peabody said afterwards. “He’s such a conservative and I’m a long-time Democrat.”

At the meeting, Clark spoke of the recent police cuts that resulted in delayed response times, no school resource officer, drugs sold openly and “gang bangers moving into my community.”

Clark also pointed to the fire department’s cuts and facing the shutting down of stations.

“Let’s get those laid off firemen back where they belong,” Clark claimed, “in the firehouse.”

Over the last three years the city has cut over $3.4 million from its general fund budget that has resulted in loss of personnel and services. This year, City Manager Steve Hallam asked department heads to cut 10 percent from their budgets to cover a $760,000 shortfall for the 2011-2012 fiscal year.

“This is a quality of life issue,” said Clark. “Not just public safety, but parks, seniors, and other services.”

“I don’t want to see the city be degraded further for lack of funds,” said Peabody. “Things we’ve taken for granted for what makes Oakdale what it is are being eroded.”

Peabody said that asking for any tax increase was a hard decision to make and did not know how much more of a burden the community could take.

City Councilman Mike Brennan, who was appointed to act as a liaison between the committee and council, said he would want to see the sales tax not just devoted to public safety, but the entire general fund. Brennan referred to a recent City of Tracy measure that increased its sales tax a half-cent and relayed he had been in contact with Tracy officials about the steps they took.

Clark and Peabody, the panel's co-chairs, will appoint five residents to the committee to assist them in exploring an increase. Both are soliciting members and are open to interested volunteers.

According to both Clark and Peabody, the percentage rate of a sales tax increase has not been decided.

“We’re going to have to look at figures to decide,” said Peabody.

Together, Clark and Peabody stressed that any increase would have a “sunset clause” defining when the increase would end.

“This is something not to be looked at as permanent,” said Clark.

The Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors would have to approve the measure by June 17, 2011 to get it on the November ballot.