Atlanta voters to decide on penny sales tax for water, sewer upgrades

Atlanta voters will decide Tuesday whether to renew a penny sales tax that pays for water and sewer improvements in the city.

The tax would raise as much as $750 million over four years. It’s the last renewal of the Municipal Option Sales Tax that is currently allowed, said Lillian Govus, a spokeswoman for Atlanta’s Department of Watershed Management.

If approved, money collected from the sales tax would go to help Atlanta pay for sewer improvements required by a federal consent decree, as well as other water-related projects.

A sales tax spreads the burden among those who shop in the city, not just Atlanta’s 460,000 residents. Some 1.2 million enter the city daily, Govus said. In 2012, when residents last reauthorized the penny sales tax, it passed with 86 percent support, Govus said.

If the tax fails, Govus said, water rates could rise by about 30 percent in the city and some projects could be cut. Response time to problems like water main breaks might also be slower.

“It’s to help spread the responsibility for water infrastructure,” she said.

Up to 10 percent of the money collected could go to stormwater projects, Govus said. Other money would help pay for a five-mile tunnel from the Chattahoochee River to Bellwood Quarry, which would allow the city to keep a 30-day supply of water on hand. It would also go to creating retaining ponds at several parks along the future path of the Beltline trail, and to paying for improvements at the R.M. Clayton Water Reclamation Center.

The tax dollars would also help expand sewer capacity; replace some small sewer lines that are prone to breaking; pay to assess the city’s sewers and pipelines; and fund the cleaning of the Nancy Creek tunnel, which is designed to catch sewage overflows in case of a spill, and is filled with debris.

“Breaks are happening every day,” Govus said. “The people’s public health is affected.”