Instead, local veterans opted for the creation of a county veterans commission that could advocate for veterans and help coordinate and possibly consolidate services. County supervisors advised staff to start working on that process, and they plan to vote on forming a commission at a later date.
The shift in the veterans’ stance was prompted by county staff’s warning about the high costs associated with creating a special district.
“This last week has been a whirlwind, but it’s been an educational week for us, especially regarding the election process and how much it costs,” said Larry Johnson, president of Korean War Veterans Association Chapter 203 in Turlock, and one of the measure’s initial supporters.
Johnson joined fellow veterans Richard Edgecomb and Frank Machado in submitting a letter to the county Friday, March 9, asking for the ballot measure’s withdrawal just days after supervisors gave the OK to place it on the June 5 ballot.
Supporters first met privately with county officials to discuss the costs that the county would bear because of any new district, according to Stanislaus County CEO Monica Nino.
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 halls. The proposed ballot measure would have only created the special district and established its board members — a property tax measure would require a two-thirds majority.
However, Stanislaus County Clerk-Recorder Lee Lundrigan estimated it would cost between $56,250 and $225,000 just to put the proposition on the ballot, though she thought it would likely be on the lower end. The reason for the large discrepancy in costs was that it was still unclear how many pages would be on the sample ballot and whether the initiative would necessitate a second ballot card.
In addition, the World War II-era code that governs such districts requires the county to have elections during odd years to elect district board members, tacking on hundreds of thousands of dollars in extra expenses in future years.
Even county supervisors who initially voted in favor of the measure on a 3-2 decision were wary about the impacts it would have on taxpayers.
All of the supervisors this week said they were grateful to the veterans for the compromise, and they said they would make it worth their while.
Nancy Hinton, who worked with the veterans to get signatures on the ballot, said she hoped Supervisor Terry Withrow would be true to past promises to help the veterans set up a new center in Modesto.
Withrow, who voted against the ballot measure on March 6 because of concerns about the financial impacts, told veterans at the time he would help them raise funds and find a center. He said Tuesday that his offer still stands.
“I want to commend you for this,” he said. “This is right thing to do, and this is what you guys are all about — service above self.”
Edgecomb, who spent more than a dozen years trying to get a memorial district set up before withdrawing his request, has said his main goal is to create a gathering place and service center in Modesto for veterans, as well as smaller centers in the county’s outlying cities, including Patterson. He also hopes to create a museum with military paraphernalia from throughout the area and to connect veterans with the services available to them.
While he spoke at length at last week’s board of supervisors meeting about his hopes for a memorial district, he only spoke briefly Tuesday.
“We’ve done all the things we can do, and I hope we can get this commission done as quickly as possible,” he said.
Richard Gaytan, a Vietnam veteran from Newman who advocates for veterans on the West Side, expressed interest in serving on the commission. He wants to ensure the body will not only consist of Modesto residents.
“From Westley to Newman, it seems like the West Side veterans are not getting the attention they should be getting,” he said.
Supervisors said they would aim to make the body representative of the county as a whole.
• Jonathan Partridge can be reached at 892-6187, ext. 26, or email@example.com.