While many of us were out enjoying the holiday weekend, Clayton County, in particular its Commissioners, faced a tight deadline that required a last ditch effort if they were to be successful in placing a binding referendum on the November ballot. On Saturday, the day after our nation’s birthday and only one day before the deadline, the Commissioners approved a full cent sales tax for MARTA service which will be voted upon by Clayton County voters on November 4th. The successful 3-1 vote received a warm welcome from the packed room of over 200, which in and of itself was a welcome sight.
Following the MARTA Board’s rejection of Clayton’s intent to join the system with a half-cent referendum last week, many feared the County Commissioners wouldn’t approve the full cent before the deadline. With County Chairman Jeff Turner and Vice Chair Shana Rooks already in support of the full cent referendum, the deciding factor came down to Commissioner Sonna Singleton, who decided to allow the citizens to vote on it. This was somewhat of a surprise as it was expected that Commissioner Gail Hambrick would most likely be the sway vote, however she did not make the meeting.
With the successful vote, two more steps remain before Clayton can join the MARTA system. First, residents must approve the measure in November, which some insiders believe will receive up to two thirds of the vote. Once approved, the other MARTA jurisdictions (City of Atlanta, DeKalb County, and Fulton County) will each have to give consent to Clayton’s contract.
Under the full cent contract, MARTA has promised that all of the sales taxes raised in the county will only be used for transit services within the county, essentially creating a pool of money that will be separate from the sales taxes operating the current system in DeKalb and Fulton counties. This was done to help persuade the county in joining MARTA and promise a specified amount of funding towards Clayton’s transit service, an estimated $46 million in annual sales tax revenue.
With the full cent contract, some form of high capacity transit service is also promised to serve Clayton County though there is no specified timeframe for implementation. Two proposals MARTA CEO Keith Parker has presented involve commuter rail using the Norfolk Southern right of way from East Point to Jonesboro. Parker has also expressed the alternative of bus rapid transit (BRT). Whatever the outcome, the Council commends Clayton County on this victory as the re-establishment of transit will improve the attractiveness and economic competitiveness of Clayton County in the future.
To view last week’s Priorities story on this issue, click HERE.
To view the AJC’s story on Saturday’s vote, click HERE.