Educating voters about Fulton County transportation taxes a challenge

Across Fulton County, residents will decide this fall whether they want to increase sales taxes to raise money to address transportation issues.

The biggest worry for those whose job it is to educate voters: Residents will be confused when they see the ballots. Atlanta and other Fulton County residents are voting on different measures, and there is concern that several transportation-related campaigns will confuse voters. To try to avoid that, each community is planning its own voter outreach.

In Atlanta, residents will make two separate decisions — whether they want to add a four-tenths of a penny sales tax for five years for road fixes, and whether they want to increase sales taxes by half a penny for 40 years to expand MARTA service within the city.

Outside Atlanta, Fulton residents will vote on a three-quarter cent tax that would fund road and congestion improvements for five years.

“It’s probably one of the biggest obstacles,” said Fred Hicks, with the group More MARTA. “The No. 1 threat to the campaign is confusion.”

Hicks is concerned that residents who think of themselves as Atlanta residents, though they live in cities like East Point or Sandy Springs, may wonder after seeing Atlanta voter campaigns why they don’t see the ballot questions they expected.

To that end, Fulton County has helped convene representatives from its various cities so they can coordinate about the best way to educate voters. It has contracted with a freelance designer to help design graphics for cities that don’t have the capability themselves.

“It’s very grassroots work,” said Jessica Corbitt, a spokeswoman with the county. “We wanted the cities to take the lead to reflect the process as a whole. The whole philosophy has been to maintain local control.”

In Johns Creek, a tri-fold flier with information about what fixes the tax will fund will be handed out at town hall meetings and events like the city’s arts festival. Union City intends to catch residents who come out to celebrate high school homecoming later this month. And, in Hapeville, an ad about the proposed tax is in the city newsletter.

Mountain Park plans to email residents. Other cities are planning meetings with homeowners’ associations as a way to spread the word.

Local governments aren’t allowed to advocate for the taxes — though elected officials can on their own — so the campaigns are purely informational.

In Fairburn, residents seem to be excited about the types of projects that could be funded with the money, city engineer Brendetta Walker said. And while Johns Creek residents have questions about how the proposed tax would affect their bottom lines, they are eager to ask questions about the projects, spokeswoman Edie Damann said.

“The main thing is that we make sure everyone is knowledgeable so the lines are clear when they go to the polls,” East Point spokeswoman Renita Shelton said.