Gwinnett approves contract with MARTA, calls March vote

Gwinnett’s Board of Commissioners made two historic decisions Wednesday morning, approving a once-unthinkable contract with MARTA and calling for a public referendum on the matter.

The referendum being called for March 19, 2019, not this November, was a surprise. It drew the ire of many transit supporters gathered for the meeting and allegations of political shenanigans from Democrats.

But both votes, held during a special called 8 a.m. meeting, were significant steps toward bringing heavy rail service to the county.  District 3 Commissioner Tommy Hunter cast the lone "no" vote for the contract but voted for the referendum.

“I feel as though we're going to be paying our share," Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash said of the contract. "But we've got a lot of protection for how Gwinnett dollars are used."

A full copy of the historic contract between Gwinnett and MARTA was not immediately available Wednesday. But according to a summary of the document provided by the county, several provisions would protect the use of the one-cent sales tax revenue that will be collected in Gwinnett if a referendum is approved.

Democrats and others charged the commission of pushing back the transit referendum — the approval of which would enact a new one-cent transit-funding sales tax and help pave the way for heavy rail in Gwinnett — so it would not drive Democratic turnout during the Nov. 6 general election. That election includes hotly contested races for governor, a Gwinnett-based Congressional seat, state legislative seats and two spots on the county commission.

“What they want to do is to put in March when nobody will be interested,” said Gabe Okoye, the chairman of Gwinnett’s Democratic Party. “And then the few people who will be interested are those who will always be opposed to it.”

See the full contract below. Read more in-depth coverage here.