Atlanta to consider asking for tax hike to fund transportation needs

The Atlanta City Council will consider a measure next week that could put a significant dent in the billion-dollar infrastructure backlog.

But making that dent is going to cost you.

The council will decide whether to ask for a 0.4 percent tax hike to pay for about $379 million in projects that would include everything from work on the Atlanta Beltline to building streetscapes to synchronizing the city’s traffic lights.

A referendum on the tax hike will be on the November ballot, if approved by the council. Coupled with a proposed half a penny tax in the city for MARTA, Atlanta’s sales tax would go from 8 percent to 8.9 percent.

In short, $10 worth of groceries will go from $10.80 to $10.89 if both referendums pass.

Tom Weyandt, who is advising the city on what is known as a TSPLOST, said the proposal would provide “a few hundred million dollars for the billion dollar needs,” of the city. Georgia law allows a municipality to develop a project list that is more than what the tax is expected to generate over the five years.

“You can say it is a leap of faith, but I think it is a prudent leap of faith,” Weyandt said.

At a city council work session on Thursday, District 9 Representative Felicia A. Moore flat out said that she would not be voting for it because she didn’t want to add to citizen’s tax burden.

“I cannot, in good conscience, add an additional burden in sales tax for five years,” Moore said. “Once you get it, you get hooked on it. Like crack. Once you taste it and get it, you can’t get off of it.”

According to Faye DiMassimo, general manager of the Renew Atlanta bond program, planners and engineers came up with a list of existing plans and new projects that the tax increase would fund, including money for Beltline right-of-way acquisitions, spur trails and lighting; street improvements and sidewalk repair; street widenings and storm water infrastructure; and bike share enhancements.

Several council members voiced loud concerns about the proposed list of projects at Thursday’s session. Some argued that they didn’t have enough time to provide input and worried that their districts would be shortchanged.

“There is nothing on here in my neighborhood. Why would it be relevant to me?” said councilwoman Joyce Sheperd, who represents District 12. “There needs to be a bit more of a balance.”

Kwanza Hall, who represents District 2, which was well-represented on the list, said while is not “completely excited about the list,” he approves of the direction.

“I don’t think equity means dividing by 12 (districts),” Hall said. “It means how do we make our city better. All and all, going forward toward a pedestrian, non-auto, best in class city can be very powerful.”

Added Moore: “I know we can never get 100 percent equity. But there are certain districts receiving a large amount of investments versus others. I just find it interesting when I see where it is going. But we are also in a political environment, and I will leave it at that.”

Katrina Taylor Parks, the city’s deputy chief of staff, said while the list might not seem “equal,” it reflects the city’s “overall priorities of safety and mobility.”

She added that council members had ample opportunities to weigh in on the process.

“With all do respect, the list represents the needs of the city of Atlanta as a whole,” Parks said. “We have been talking to people – this is not the beginning of this discussion.”

Several council member suggested delaying the vote in order to get more information and to add projects to the list. But Parks said the city is working on a tight time line to get the referendum to Fulton County in time for the November election.

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