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Atlanta City Council back on track with social equity for transportation sales taxes

Northside Drive

MARTA is considering adding buses along Northside Drive to link Atlanta Metropolitan State College with a new regional bus system transfer point near the intersection of Northside Drive and I-75, near Atlantic Station. Credit: David Pendered

By David Pendered

The Atlanta City Council is slated to adopt Monday some of the strongest language regarding social equity that the council has yet devised regarding the social impact of the spending of taxpayer dollars.

Northside Drive

MARTA is considering adding buses along Northside Drive to link Atlanta Metropolitan State College with a new regional bus system transfer point near the intersection of Northside Drive and I-75, near Atlantic Station. Credit: David Pendered

In this case, $2.8 billion is to come from the two transportation sales tax referendums on the Nov. 8 ballot. One proposed 0.5 percent sales tax is for transit; the other 0.5 percent sales tax is for non-transit transportation improvements, such as sidewalks.

The council’s Community Development Committee passed the legislation unanimously, and without debate, by the at its Sept. 27 meeting. The paper sets out a number of community benefits agreements intended to guide a share of the construction dollars to demographics that historically don’t benefit significantly from large-scale public construction projects.

This is the same legislation the Community Development Committee approved at its its July 26 meeting. At that time, a number of unresolved issues surrounded the paper and a city attorney noted that it hadn’t been vetted by Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration.

Committee Chairman Andre Dickens suggested the issues be resolved during the council’s two-week summer break in August. It was tentatively placed on the council’s Aug. 15 agenda. That didn’t happen. However, after all deliberation, the meat of the legislation remains intact, including its opening preamble:

  • “[B]e it resolved by the Council of the City of Atlanta, Georgia as follows: the City’s residents expect and deserve an equitable phasing in and implementation of the progress list, fair and opportunistic workforce and contracting provisions, and meaningful equitable Transit Oriented Development options.”

The legislation intends to compel the city, MARTA, and Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. to share plans and collaborate on their various transportation projects.

Mercedes-Benz Stadium July 2016

The Mercedes-Benz Stadium is being built with the help of workers provided by the Atlanta Workforce Development Agency. Image from July 2016. File/Credit: David Pendered

To that end, Resolution 16-R-4041 states that the three entities will follow specific procedures to ensure that lower income Atlanta residents are hired to work on construction projects, and that companies owned by non-whites and women receive a “significant” proportion of spending.

The relevant verbage states that MARTA, ABI and the city:

  • “[S]hall implement these projects realizing the significant impact as an economic development tool in underserved areas. MARTA and ABI will use First Source Hiring Practices, in coordination with Atlanta Workforce Development Agency for training, and that at least 30 percent of employees shall reside inside the City of Atlanta. MARTA and ABI also will ensure that these contracts leverage a significant Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) component. Updated disparity studies will be presented annually to the relevant City Council Committee with the accompanying DBE measurements to determine appropriate DBE participation in the MARTA tax and TSPLOST Tax project implementation.”

The legislation won’t have the force of law. It is a resolution, not an ordinance. A city attorney flagged the legislation the committee’s meeting in July. He said the resolution doesn’t have teeth.

“It’s more an advisory paper,” Marc Goncher, of the city’s Law Department, said in July. “The ‘shalls’ will be interpreted as, ‘please do this.’”

That didn’t deter the committee.

Dickens contended that the city can devise a way to thread the needle and make sure money collected from Atlanta taxpayers helps Atlanta residents.

Atlanta found a similar work-around in order to grab a piece of the $1.6 billion in construction leading up to the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, Dickens said.

The original paper was sponsored by Dickens and Councilmember Kwanza Hall. The committee amended the paper to add co-sponsors including Michael Julian Bond; Joyce Sheperd; Ivory Lee Young, Jr.; and Cleta Winslow.



David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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