Proposal to have Atlanta Streetcar planning done by BeltLine hits snag over who’s to pay for the research
By David Pendered
Atlanta’s effort to bring more of the planning for the expansion of the Atlanta Streetcar under the wing of the Atlanta BeltLine has hit a snag at Atlanta City Hall.
This particular situation is not expected to be significant. But it is the latest in a series that has led to the delay of at least a year in the planned opening of the Atlanta streetcar’s current route.
The current snag involves the source of up to $6 million to pay for planners and planning consultants to work on the streetcar expansion project. The city council’s Finance Committee raised a question that may delay legislation that had been slated for adoption by the council on Monday: What sources of taxpayer dollars will the Atlanta BeltLine use to pay for this long-range planning.
The issue arose around legislation that Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration had expected to be a routine service agreement involving the city, the BeltLine, and Invest Atlanta – the city’s development arm that oversees the BeltLine. These sorts of agreements require the council’s approval.
The paper intends to authorize the BeltLine to conduct all planning and design of the Atlanta Streetcar Expansion Strategy. The paper provides no answer to the funding question raised by the Finance Committee.
Peter Andrews, a city attorney, told the committee that the answers are included in attachments to the legislation, which were inadvertently omitted from the legislative package.
Tom Weyandt, the mayor’s senior advisor on transportation, told the committee that he had to refer details of the funding questions to city CFO Jim Beard. Beard said he could not answer the questions during the meeting and would need to research the answers.
This level of detail was included in a related provision approved in May by the board of Atlanta BeltLine. The measure provided for studies of the streetcar expansion and BeltLine’s eastern segment, with funding to come from three tax allocation districts – BeltLine, Westside, and Eastside.
The price of the total project is expected to range from $5 million to $6 million, and the finished work will position the projects to accept federal funding, Nate Conable, the BeltLine’s planning director, told the BeltLine board at the time.
Conable told the Finance Committee at its July 10 meeting that the funding breaks down to:
- $1.5 million from the Eastside and Westside TADs, including $950,000 from the Westside TAD;
- $1.47 million in federal funds channeled through the Atlanta Regional Commission;
- $1 million or more from the BeltLine’s FY 2014 budget.
Committee Chair Felicia Moore said those figures total about $4 million.
“So we still have more to go,” Moore said.
Councilperson Yolanda Adrean pressed for clarification of language in the legislation that she said indicates that city taxpayers will be on the hook for any cost overruns beyond the sum provided by TADs and ARC.
“It sounds like you’ll have a work product, and after the work is done the city will be billed for its percentage of the payment,” Adrean said. “It feels like the city will be making active payments, under this agreement, from the general fund.”