Stanislaus County’s board of supervisors voted 3-2 Tuesday, March 6, to create a ballot measure that would create the special veterans memorial district, after the group had unsuccessfully tried to get a measure on the ballot twice in the past.
Supervisors Terry Withrow and Vito Chiesa both dissented, expressing concern over elections-related costs, an inability to legally do away with the district once it is formed and potential confusion about the archaic regulations that govern such entities.
Other supervisors shared those concerns, but they said the ballot measure’s backers should be rewarded for following the instructions that the county had given them.
“This board of supervisors has told veterans groups to get these signatures to put this on the ballot, and I think anything short of that would be inappropriate,” board chairman Bill O’Brien said. “We need to live up to what we told you years ago.”
Under state law, Veterans Memorial Districts can collect up to three-tenths of one cent on each dollar of assessed property evaluation to pay for facilities such as memorial buildings, parks and recreational facilities. About 25 such veterans districts exist throughout California, with the most recent district being formed more than 60 years ago, proponents say.
The proposed measure, which advocates hope to get on the June ballot, would merely set up the district and its five-member board. Another measure would be needed to collect property tax money, and that would require a two-thirds majority vote.
Ballot measure proponent Richard Edgecomb, a former National Guard member from Modesto, told the board Tuesday that the district initially would not seek to gain money from property assessments. Instead, it would seek to gain donations from the public, he said.
Edgecomb and other advocates worked with ballot signature gatherers to collect 10,948 valid signatures to create the ballot measure. Only 9,627 signatures were required to get a ballot measure approved, including at least 7,580 from the county’s cities and at least 2,047 from unincorporated areas.
Clerk Recorder Lee Lundrigan anticipates it will cost between $56,250 to $225,000 to put the proposition on the June ballot, though she thought it would likely be on the lower end. The reason for the large discrepancy in costs is that it is still unclear how many pages will be on the sample ballot and whether the initiative would cause there to be a second ballot card, Lundrigan wrote in a staff report.
In addition to the cost of placing the initiative on the ballot, the county would be required to pay for ongoing veterans district board member elections during odd years, Lundrigan said. When Supervisor Jim DeMartini asked whether the board could simply appoint members to the district, Lundrigan said they could not. It also appears that no one could legally dissemble the district once it is established, she said.
“This is unique law, and it’s very antiquated law, and we’re very much held to follow their laws exactly,” she said.
That news troubled some supervisors, who said the county is already in dire financial straits as it is without the associated costs of the ballot measure and the veterans district.
Withrow, who said he supports veterans and has a son who is serving in the U.S. military in Libya, said he could not justify the added expense, noting that the cost of the upcoming ballot measure could pay for a couple of sheriff’s deputies.
“As it is right now, we haven’t even passed this yet, and we’re trying to figure out how to dissolve it,” Withrow said.
He said he would rather help veterans with their fundraising efforts to help buy a new facility in Modesto. Likewise, Chiesa questioned whether the county could allow veterans to use some of their facilities free of charge rather than setting up the district.
Even DeMartini, who voted in favor of the ballot measure, questioned the need for the district.
Still, the dozen or so veterans in attendance said it is important for the 35,000 veterans in Stanislaus County to have a place of their own.
Roy Santiago, commander of American Legion Post 872 in Hughson, said after the meeting that veterans groups get requests for funerals, fundraisers and other events, so it can be difficult to plan when they rent space in another facility.
While no veterans from Patterson attended Tuesday’s meeting, Santiago said the city was the perfect example of a place that would benefit, as its American Legion post now meets in the Sacred Heart Catholic Church’s Father Connors Hall.
Mike Anderson, commander of American Legion Post 168 in Patterson, said last week that he was unaware of the veterans memorial district proposal, but he planned to learn more.
Edgecomb has said that he envisions a multipurpose center in Modesto that would provide referral information for jobs and medical services and host social functions, as well as smaller buildings in outlying cities including Patterson.
“We have so many veterans that are left out and don’t have facilities and really don’t know what’s going on,” Edgecomb said by phone last week.
He also said he would hope to create a museum with military paraphernalia from throughout the area. He stressed during Tuesday’s meeting that while state regulations would allow for veterans districts to collect money for parks and swimming pools, he did not see a need for those amenities.
Veterans in attendance applauded after Tuesday’s supervisors vote, and many said it was a long time coming. Edgecomb noted that he has tried to get a measure on the ballot since 1998. However, the county required a 180-day time limit on signature gathering in the past – the set amount of time required for petitions for most matters but not for veterans memorial districts, he said.
In addition, the county provided a master petition for the signature gathering process in the past, and it only had spaces for nine signatures rather than 10, according to a letter from Karl Geletich III of the Modesto-based Citizens for Constitutional Government. Geletich and his group helped the veterans with the petition process. As a result of past problems in working with the county, veterans decided to create their own petitions this time, Edgecomb said.
Supervisor Dick Monteith praised the group for its efforts, and said the advocates for the veterans district should be rewarded for doing everything that county staff told them to do.
“I think it’s illustrated with everything that they’ve done at this time that they’re more than willing to work with us in any manner that they can,” he said. “They’re not looking for gobs of money that they can spend. They’re just trying to make it work.”
Stanislaus County residents have until 5 p.m. Friday, March 9, to file for office and run as a potential veterans district board member. Three of the seats are reserved for veterans only, while the other two seats are open to any registered voter.
Voters interested in becoming candidates can stop by the County Clerk-Recorder/ Elections Office, 1021 I St., Room 101, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. this week, or to telephone the office at 525-5200, or 525-5230 for assistance in Spanish.
More information is available on the Elections Office web site at: www.stanvote.com
• Jonathan Partridge can be reached at 892-6187, ext. 26, or firstname.lastname@example.org.