Atlanta ups the ante in Buckhead City campaign
By David Pendered
The Atlanta City Council has raised the stakes of the Buckhead City effort by calling a vote in May 2022 for $750 million in funding for roads, greenspace and other infrastructure.
The campaign for two referendums on the May 24, 2022 ballot may present Atlanta voters with dramatically distinct views of the improvements Atlanta could afford with Buckhead’s tax revenues, and a possibly truncated building program without Buckhead’s tax revenues. Voters citywide could see how their neighborhoods could be affected if Buckhead deannexes from Atlanta, and become energized to keep Buckhead in the city.
This campaign for public infrastructure is to unfold at the same time Buckhead cityhood advocates work in the state capitol. Their effort, which resumes officially when the Legislature convenes Jan. 10, 2022 is to convince state lawmakers to allow Buckhead residents to vote to deannex from the city and form the proposed Buckhead City. The target date for the public vote is Nov. 8, 2022.
In addition, the proposed infrastructure bonds complicate Buckhead’s possible response to a request from the state House Study Committee on Annexation and Cityhood. The committee, in its Nov. 18 final report, urged the House to enact provisions to require deannexation proposals to include any public debt, including pension obligations, and how it’s to be serviced if deannexation is approved.
While lobbyists and lawmakers discuss the Buckhead proposal, the city will be able to conduct a full-bore educational campaign on the expected outcome of the construction program. The project list of sweeteners includes upgrades to Chastain Park, pool improvements citywide and $110 million for new and improved sidewalks.
Buckhead’s property taxes, which would help retire some of the planned bonds, amount to $119.6 million a year, according to the “Fiscal Feasibility Study of a Proposed Buckhead City,” released Sept. 10 by an affiliate of Valdosta State University. The amount of sales taxes collected in Buckhead by the 0.4 percent transportation special purpose local option sales tax, which would help pay for future mobility projects, does not appear to be cited in the Valdosta report.
The city government is allowed to conduct an informational campaign around the proposed infrastructure projects.
A comparison is the one for the extension of the 1 percent sales tax in 2020. Atlanta could not seek to persuade voters to support the municipal option sales tax but could inform voters of rate hikes that could follow a rejection of the sales tax to help pay for the city’s $4-plus billion sewer upgrade. The MOST was approved with 71 percent of the vote, according to a Ballotpedia report.
The $750 million infrastructure proposal has two categories:
- $406 million in new debt, to be funded by property taxes and pay for projects including cameras in parks, park improvements, a 911 center and four new fire stations. The council intends to finance payments with no tax increase, though one council cannot bind a future council
- $350 million in new debt, to be funded with an extension of the 0.4 percent SPLOST for projects including roads, sidewalks, trails and other mobility measures.
If voters approve the tax proposals, the complexity is likely to increase of any agreement that could be struck between Atlanta and a future Buckhead City. Such a deal would set the terms for Buckhead to service debt carried by Atlanta in the Buckhead jurisdiction following deannexation, according to remarks by Buckhead bond counsel Roger Murray at the Sept. 16 meeting of the House Study Committee on Annexation and Cityhood.