Clayton County’s transit tax vote could be set at special-call meeting Monday, on ballot in November

By David Pendered

Clayton County commissioners could vote as early as Monday to call a referendum on a sales tax for public transportation, possibly putting it on the county’s ballot in November.

This is the vision for a proposed Clayton County transit system in 2016, if voters approve a sales tax for public transit. Credit: Clayton County

This is the vision for a proposed Clayton County transit system in 2016, if voters approve a sales tax for public transit. Credit: Clayton County

The commission on Thursday called a special meeting for June 23 at 6 p.m. The purpose is to, “discuss matters pertaining to public transportation in the county.”

MARTA GM Keith Parker and county officials reportedly met Thursday to continue discussions. The only question facing commissioners seems to be how much of a sales tax to impose – 1 percent or a half-percent. A study presented to the commission Tuesday identified the projected levels of service each tax rate would provide.

One key issue the report barely mentions is the effect a half-percent rate may have on Clayton’s political influence on MARTA’s board of directors.

If the half-percent rate is approved, the report states: “Representation on the MARTA board would likely be reduced from that anticipated with a full‐penny sales tax.” The study describes that representation with one word: “formal.”

Bus service could begin in 2016, according to the report.

The service would connect 13 locations within Clayton County, plus MARTA’s stations at College Park and East Lake. The proposed route is a grid that covers destinations including Clayton State University, Conley, Forest Park, Riverdale, and Jonesboro and the county Justice Center.

Commuter rail service could begin in 2025 with nine stations, according to the report.

This is the vision for a proposed Clayton County transit system in 2025, if voters approve a 1 percent sales tax for public transit. Credit: Clayton County

This is the vision for a proposed Clayton County transit system in 2025, if voters approve a 1 percent sales tax for public transit. Credit: Clayton County

The two ends of the transit line in Clayton would be at MARTA’s East Point Station and the Lovejoy community. The stations in between are marked as Mountainview, Forest Park, Ft. Gillem, Clayton State, Morrow, Jonesboro and the Justice Center.

If the half-percent tax rate is approved, the annual service in 2016 is projected at:

  • Bus service for 2.7 million to 3.6 million one-way riders;
  • Bus service for 300,000 to 400,000 one-way paratransit riders;
  • 196,000 hours a year of bus service, including regular, paratransit and circulator;
  • The potential to reduce hours of operating if the fare box and other potential revenue sources fall short of expectations;
  • Annual operating costs of $16.8 million to $22.7 million.

If the 1 percent tax rate is approved, the annual service in 2025 is projected at:

  • Commuter rail service for 45,000 hours;
  • No projection for passengers served by commuter rail;
  • Bus service for 3 million to 4.1 million;
  • No projection for paratransit riders;
  • 245,000 hours a year of bus service, including regular, paratransit, circulator and premium bus;
  • Annual operating costs of $33.1 million to $44.8 million.
These are the most popular destinations and routes in Clayton County, according to a projection for 2015. Credit: Clayton County

These are the most popular destinations and routes in Clayton County, according to a projection for 2015. Credit: Clayton County

The report identifies advantages of the half-percent tax including:

  • “Revenues generated from a half‐penny sales tax may be sufficient to support a transit vision concept similar to 2016 (but may require some service reductions depending upon the extent of revenue generated from fares and sources other than the sales tax). Regardless, it is important to understand that a detailed financial plan is still needed to support an agreement with MARTA.”

And it states disadvantages including:

  • “This sales tax would not be sufficient to support the implementation of commuter rail and bus service expansion as illustrated in the visions for 2025 and 2040.”

The report states advantages of the 1 percent sales tax including:

  • “It is believed that the vision concepts for 2016, 2025, and 2040 are likely to be attainable with the anticipated proceeds from a full‐penny sales tax, with the understanding that a detailed financial plan is still needed to support an agreement with MARTA.”

And it states disadvantages including:

  • “There is concern that raising Clayton County’s total sales tax to 8 percent will be detrimental to the economic competitiveness of the county in attracting growth and economic development. To provide perspective, of the 159 counties in Georgia, the Georgia Department of Revenue reports the following sales tax levies: 5 percent (1 county), 6 percent (9 counties), 7 percent (104 counties), and 8 percent (45 counties).”

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. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

5 replies
  1. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    This is good news….Joining MARTA and resuming local bus service will be a good start.
    But over the long-term, being such an urbanized county, Clayton County needs more than just bus and/or commuter rail service.
    Clayton County desperately needs Heavy Rail Transit service to operate through the county between the Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton in Henry County and the major job centers of the Northside.Report

    Reply
  2. MikeTjax says:

    My guess is that the author is referring to “commuter” rail as MARTA heavy rail. Actual commuter rail as in Diesel engines and coaches would be a huge development in GA and would be “burying the lede” in this article.Report

    Reply
  3. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    MikeTjax  I sure hope that they’re just simply referring to “commuter” rail as MARTA heavy rail.
    But with all of the talk of implementing actual commuter rail on the existing freight rail tracks with the limited funding that would be available, even with the proceeds from a 1% sales tax in Clayton County, I get the feeling that they are talking about commuter rail and not heavy rail.Report

    Reply
  4. Will says:

    People just need to face the facts that Atlanta metro area is if not already a major world city, but the transportation here is not one of a major city, and its because of the lack of young voters and people are still stuck in thier old way of thinking that public transportation brings crime, which is reduculous thinking a city that doesnt WORK brings crime and if people cant work or get to work they will commit crimeReport

    Reply

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