Atlanta to ask MARTA to account for spending of More MARTA sales tax
By David Pendered
The Atlanta City Council is poised to ask MARTA to account for money it has spent, and plans to spend, from the 0.5 percent More MARTA Atlanta sales tax city voters approved in 2016.
Approved Wednesday by the council’s Transportation Committee, the resolution raises the concern that MARTA may divert funds from the $317 million allocated for planned transit expansion along Campbellton Road to other projects. The paper does not suggest any funds have been misappropriated.
The City Council is scheduled to adopt the paper at its Feb. 7 meeting. MARTA’s Board of Directors is requested to deliver the report within 30 days.
“There will be more to discuss about this going forward,” said Councilmember Marci Collier Overstreet, who represents the area and sponsored Resolution 22-R-3059. “This is the time to start paying really close attention to what this whole project should look like, and what we’ve been promised, and making sure council is doing due diligence to actually deliver on what the taxpayers have been spending their pennies on.”
The resolution addresses only the Campbellton Road project. The transit improvement program adopted for the corridor in 2018 calls for adding either a light rail vehicle, such as the Atlanta Streetcar, or more buses operating in dedicated lanes in order to improve transit service through a densely populated area between MARTA’s Oakland City Station and Greenbriar Mall. Many residents are transit-dependent, a MARTA study showed.
The project is viewed as a major economic development in Overstreet’s district. The concern expressed in the resolution is that MARTA will pick the less costly approach of enhancing bus service, jettison facilities that would have been needed for light rail, and shift the money elsewhere.
Ten councilmembers signed Overstreet’s paper. Among them was Councilmember Alex Wan, who called for a broader investigation of MARTA’s spending of revenues collected under the 0.5 percent sales tax. Wan said he would like for MARTA to report to the City Council on its sales tax expenditures on projects throughout Atlanta.
“I’m 110 percent behind this proposal,” Wan said of Overstreet’s initiative. “This is part of a bigger transparency effort I hope we can do this year. When MARTA comes to present [quarterly reports to the council], is there a reconciliation for all the projects that were contemplated under the MARTA referendum? I would like to see that done.”
Wan did not seek to amend Overstreet’s resolution to call for a broader review.
The council did not suggest MARTA has mishandled any funds. The accounting is simply to ensure taxpayers get the projects they were promised. “This paper is just about accountability,” Overstreet said. “Since we are entering a phase of implementation, we want to be sure we are transparent, using tax dollars as we promised we would.”
According to portions of the resolution:
Whereas, through the engagement process, it is widely believed that the people have chosen Light-Rail Trains (LRT) as the preferred mode of transportation; and
Whereas, recently there has been growing concerns from the public that the More MARTA Atlanta Program Funds may only be used for the Bus Rapid Transits which will neglect other associated projects; and
Whereas, the remaining funds for the Campbellton Road Corridor and Greenbriar Transit Hub that are designated for these projects may be reallocated to other projects…
Whereas, it is in the best interest of the City to request the MARTA Board of Directors to provide a report ensuring that the More MARTA Atlanta program funds that are allocated for the Greenbriar Transit Hub and Campbellton Road Corridor Project are being used for these intended purposes only.