‘The stakes are high’ for $750M infrastructure package on Atlanta ballots

Mayor Andre Dickens speaks in front of Atlanta Fire and Rescue Station 26 on Howell Mill Road in Buckhead on Monday, May 16, 2022. Station 26 was built in 1954 and is one of four stations that would be rebuilt if the city's bond referenda pass. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
Mayor Andre Dickens speaks in front of Atlanta Fire and Rescue Station 26 on Howell Mill Road in Buckhead on Monday, May 16, 2022. Station 26 was built in 1954 and is one of four stations that would be rebuilt if the city's bond referenda pass. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Ballot committee boosted by $275K in corporate donations

At the end of the lengthy primary ballot for every Atlanta resident, no matter their party, three ballot questions ask voters if the city should infuse hundreds of millions of dollars into transportation and infrastructure improvements.

The referenda are long, wonky and bureaucratically worded, but the outcome of the election next Tuesday will have a major impact on the city’s efforts to repave streets, replace aging police and fire stations and improve park facilities.

Mayor Andre Dickens’ message to voters: “Go all the way to the end of that ballot. ... I want you to vote ‘yes’ three different times,” he said after casting a ballot at the C.T. Martin Natatorium and Recreation Center in southwest Atlanta on Wednesday.

One of the ballot questions, if passed, would allow the city to continue levying the extra sales tax known as T-SPLOST, which charges an additional 4 cents on a $10 purchase. That tax, the city estimates, would generate $350 million to fund road, sidewalk and bridge repairs across the city.

The other two questions would allow the city to borrow a combined $400 million in general obligation bonds to fund infrastructure improvements including:

  • Over $125 million for park and pool improvements
  • Over $50 million to replace four fire stations
  • $17.5 million to replace the Zone 4 police precinct and make other public safety facility fixes
  • $15 million for the city’s 911 call center
  • $8 million for the city’s future Center for Diversion and Services
  • $15 million for arts initiatives

The total $750 million package is larger than the city’s annual general fund budget, which sits at $734 million this year.

The measures have become a priority for the mayor’s office, with Dickens and his allies spending the last few weeks campaigning to ensure they pass. This week Dickens held events at a fire station, the 911 center and an art gallery to show what the funds would support.

“$750 million that we can vote on right now is going to be a lot of money to do a lot of things that we all want. So the stakes are high. It’s important,” Dickens said.

Combined ShapeCaption
Mayor Andre Dickens tours Atlanta Fire and Rescue Station 26 on Howell Mill Road in Atlanta on Monday, May 16, 2022. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Mayor Andre Dickens tours Atlanta Fire and Rescue Station 26 on Howell Mill Road in Atlanta on Monday, May 16, 2022.  (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
Mayor Andre Dickens tours Atlanta Fire and Rescue Station 26 on Howell Mill Road in Atlanta on Monday, May 16, 2022. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

A committee called Moving Atlanta Forward, led by local political operatives who are allies of the mayor, has spent over $180,000 on mailers, signs, polling and phone calls to voters, according to campaign finance filings.

The effort has received backing from the city’s business community in the form of contributions totaling about $275,000, records show. The Atlanta Committee for Progress, a group of top corporate leaders who work with City Hall on various civic issues, donated roughly $200,000 to the Moving Atlanta Forward committee. The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation contributed $25,000, and Delta Air Lines put up $50,000, filings show.

There’s no organized opposition to the measures, but Dickens and other supporters are pushing hard to win over voters who may be skeptical of the additional spending and wonder if the city can be trusted with the additional taxpayer dollars.

ExploreInside City Hall: Can Atlanta show voters it knows how to spend an extra $750M?

Some of the pushback stems from the previous “Renew Atlanta” bond program and the city’s first T-SPLOST package, approved by voters in 2015 and 2016, respectively. Both were overbudgeted, with projects delayed for years as construction costs rose.

Dickens acknowledged the shortcomings of the previous packages, and said this time around, he and the City Council worked to ensure that the project list was budgeted conservatively, with $31.5 million set aside for inflation-related cost increases.

The City Council this week took steps to add guardrails to the spending, if voters approve the ballot questions. An ordinance passed on Monday would institute yearly financial audits, require quarterly progress reports from officials, make the project list binding and create a oversight committee.

The measure said the prior bond and T-SPLOST programs “faced real challenges around project management and unacceptable delays in project delivery.”

A full project list for the referenda is available on the city’s website. Friday is the last day of early voting before Election Day on Tuesday.