Fulton County transportation tax to be on November ballot

Fulton County residents will be able to vote this fall on a measure that would raise taxes to fund transportation improvements.

On Wednesday, Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves and county mayors signed an agreement that will put a 0.75-cent sales tax on the November ballot. If approved, the tax is expected to raise up to $655 million for transportation needs. It will be voted on by residents in unincorporated Fulton and cities other than Atlanta.

The city of Atlanta will have a separate November vote. Earlier this week, city council approved a proposal that would create a .4-cent sales tax for transportation; a half-penny sales tax to benefit MARTA in the city will also be on the ballot.

The Fulton County agreement comes after a year of discussion, sometimes contentious, about how much money to raise and where it should go. The Fulton tax would go toward congestion relief projects like road widenings; safety projects like intersection improvements, resurfacing roads and fixing guardrails; and streetscape improvements like bike lanes and sidewalks.

No money will go to public transportation, though Eaves said he sees this agreement as a path toward continued discussion about its expansion after the November vote.

A vote to pass the tax, Eaves said, would go a long way toward meeting the county’s transportation needs.

“It was a winding road to get here, and there were times that I didn’t think it would happen,” he said. “But the opportunity for half a billion to a billion dollars in transportation money, it’s just something you can’t walk away from.”

Other counties around the state will likely follow Fulton’s lead if voters choose to move forward with the tax, Eaves said. While the county cannot spend money to advocate for its passage, it can educate people about the measure. A private effort will begin to do so. Eaves said early polling on the tax has been favorable.

“If we properly educate the north and the south, they’re going to see the benefit,” he said. “It means a major crack in our infrastructure needs would be mended.”

If the tax is approved, East Point Mayor Pro Tem Myron Cook said, it would mean “a significant amount of money” for his city. East Point would focus on improving the city’s gateways, and maintaining roads. Cook said as the city continues to struggle with lower revenues following the recession, the money will be well appreciated.

Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul said he thinks this effort will be better-received than a failed 2012 regional transportation tax that would have raised $7.2 billion because it is local, and not political. As part of the process to approve the measure, each city and unincorporated Fulton County put together a three-tiered list of projects that they will fund with the money that would be raised.

That makes it easier for residents to see how they would benefit from its passage, he said.

“I’m extremely gratified,” Paul said. “This is a new day in Fulton County.”