By David Pendered
An interfaith prayer vigil on Monday is slated to begin an hour before Clayton County’s board of commissioners is to convene to consider putting a sales tax referendum for transportation on the November ballot.
The November time frame for the transit vote is of the essence for its advocates. If not called this year, the proposed transit tax will run into the planned 2015 referendum to extend Clayton’s existing special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST).
Clayton commissioners have until July 1 to call the transit referendum. The date is contained in a bill approved this year by the General Assembly. The SPLOST vote has not been scheduled, according to Clayton’s website.
The vigil is sponsored by Friends of Clayton Transit, which is comprised of influential groups including the Livable Communities Coalition, Georgia Sierra Club, Georgia Stand-Up, SCLC, Georgia NAACP, and the Amalgamated Transit Union.
The organization came together in 2010, as the Clayton commission halted Clayton’s bus service due to low tax collections during the worst of the recession. Members ramped up their transit efforts in 2012, after voters in the metro Atlanta region rejected a proposed 1 percent sales tax for transit, roadway and related upgrades.
Clayton commissioners, in addition to deciding to call the referendum, are weighing the pros and cons of setting the proposed transit tax rate at 1 percent or a half-percent.
The pros of the higher tax rate include commuter rail service by 2025 and full representation on MARTA’s board of directors, according to a June 17 presentation to Clayton County commissioners. The cons include asking residents whose countywide household income is the lowest in the region to shoulder a sales tax rate of 8 percent – presuming voters in 2015 agree to extend the SPLOST.
The proposed SPLOST is expected to bring in from about $226 to $272 million over five or six years, according to a news report provided on the county’s website. The tentative list of projects includes a county administration building, police facilities, a civic arena on par with Gwinnett Arena, libraries, and community dog parks.
Meanwhile, the county review regarding the transit tax proposal shows that a majority of Clayton residents are willing to pay higher taxes to provide themselves with a transit system, according to the report to commissioners.
The report observed:
- “More than 80 percent of respondents to the surveys support the establishment of a transit system in Clayton County, and nearly 70 percent indicated a willingness to support an increase in taxes to make it happen.
- “The survey did not ask respondents to clarify the type of tax they would support, but rather whether or not they support an increase in taxes generally.”
Georgia Stand-Up is among the entities calling for the full 1 percent transit sales tax, Executive Director Deborah Scott said.
The vigil stops short of seeking a specific tax rate or even asking commissioners to take action.
The vigil begins at 5 p.m. has one purpose, according to a flyer:
- “Join the prayer circle of love, hope & faith showing support for our county commissioners and officials as they deliberate important decisions about transportation for Clayton County.”
The message after the group’s logo – comprised of the words “Prayer, Love, Hope, Faith,” circling the words, “For Clayton County” – states:
- “Commissioners will hold a special called meeting about transportation immediately following vigil.”