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.
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.
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.
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).”