North Fulton Officials Oppose Beltline’s Sales Tax Funding
(APN) ATLANTA — Several North Fulton officials are opposed to the inclusion of 601 million dollars of funding for the Atlanta Beltline in the draft list passed by the Executive Committee for the upcoming penny transportation sales tax vote in July 2012.
Under the draft list, the Beltline would receive roughtly ten percent of the total funding from the penny sales tax, which is 6.14 billion dollars.
If approved, this allocation of sales tax funding would pay for more than one-fifth of the Beltline project, which is projected to cost around 2.8 billion dollars.
It is the third biggest allocation of funds from the penny sales tax, following funding towards a light rail line from Midtown to Cobb County at 856 million dollars, and funding towards a Dekalb County transit line from Lindbergh Center to Emory University at 700 million, also known as the Clifton Corridor.
Other mass transit projects included on the August 15, 2011, draft is are: 37 million dollars for a study for a North MARTA Heavy-Rail Line Extension to SR-140; 95 million for the I-85 North Transit Corridor, which is seed money to start developing a light-rail transit line to Gwinnett County; and 225 million dollars for a study of a possible MARTA Heavy East Rail Line Extension from Indian Creek to Wesley Chapel.
There will be several upcoming meetings in September thoughout Metro Atlanta, for residents to speak out about the final list, to be adopted October 13, 2011.
There will be a Public Meeting this Thursday, September 15, 2011, from 6pm-8pm, at Atlanta City Council Chambers.
The Full Atlanta Regional Roundtable will meeting this Friday, September 16, 2011, from 9-11am, at the Atlanta Regional Commission offices at the Charles Loudermilk Center in downtown Atlanta.
There will be a Public Meeting next Wednesday, September 21, 2011, from 6pm-8pm, at the North Fulton Service Center at 7741 Roswell Road, Sandy Springs, Georgia.
There will be a Public Meeting the following Wednesday, September 28, 2011, from 6-8pm, at the South Fulton Service Center at 5600 Stonewall Tell Road, College Park, Georgia.
The controversial funding for the Beltline is sure to be a topic at some of these meetings.
On August 23, 2011, Matthew Quinn, Editor of the Johns Creek Herald, published an editorial, “Money slated for the Beltline better spent on regional, North Fulton projects,” which recalled an August 18 meeting of the North Fulton Municipal Association.
At this August 18 meeting, Johns Creek Mayor Mike Bodker, Roswell Mayor Jere Wood, and Sandy Springs Mayor Eva Galambos took issue with the inclusion of funding for the Beltline in the draft project list.
“The instruction all of us were given when we put in our requests for projects, it had to be of regional significance, it had to be connecting between jurisdictions, and it had to provide congestion relief,” Mayor Galambos told Atlanta Progressive News.
“The Beltline is a very nice economic development program, but it is not a regional transportation initiative,” Galambos said.
“At no place does it coincide with a MARTA station. There’s no way there’s any connectivity,” Galambos said.
However, Ashley Robbins of Citizens for Progressive Transit said the plan is for the Beltline to ultimately connect with MARTA at four stations.
Still, “The most important issue with congestion is people trying to get from home to work and back. The Beltline does not connect with any major employment centers,” Galambos said.
Galambos said it is primarily an economic development project as opposed to a transportation project, pointing to the Beltline’s own website.
“They speak of three thousand acres of under-utilized properties. The financing for the Beltline is sixty percent raised by the Tax Allocation District,” Galambos noted.
When APN pointed out that the financing model of the TAD presumes that property values will go up enough to pay the bonds back with interest, Galambos replied, “Do you think that’s happening now? That’s why they want this [sales tax] money.”
Galambos said she would rather some of the sales tax money be spent on a widening of Hammond Drive, which she said is an important east-west connection.
“It depends on what you want the Transportation Investment Act to be,” Robbins told APN.
“If you are thinking a regional bill that will mitigate congestion, the Beltline isn’t necessarily it. That’s not what the Beltline is designed to do. The Beltline is an economic development project. It will be a huge boost to the region. It is not going to be a project that’s designed to reduce traffic. It’s about providing residents who live along the corridor, access to jobs,” Robbins said.
According to one source, the Beltline did not meet the criteria originally established by the Roundtable, but Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed pressured the Roundtable to revise its criteria so the Beltline would be eligible for funding.
A recent newsletter of the Fulton County Taxpayers Foundation questioned the feasibility of the Beltline as well.
“In the midst of the worst economic recession since the Great Depression of 1929, many taxpayers are asking whether such a costly project is really feasible. A great many more are wondering if the Beltline will do all that it boasts,” the September 2011 FCTF newsletter stated.
The newsletter quotes the City of Atlanta’s own feasibility study of the Beltline from several years ago as stating, “There are very few locations along the projected Beltline where large and dense concentrations of jobs are expected. The highest numbers and concentrations of jobs in the City are in Downtown, Midtown, and Buckhead, none of which would be directly served by the Beltline. The projected Beltline appears to be mostly residential, not the characteristic mix for generating large numbers of Beltline riders. The Beltline project in its entirety will not generate sufficient transit ridership in the corridor to satisfy the criteria for federal New Start transit investments.”
Despite receiving 78,120,000 dollars in TAD bonds, which were issued in 2008 and reissued in 2009, the Beltline, as of June 30, 2010, had an operating deficit of 58,084,051 dollars, according to an audit by Mauldin & Jenkins.
“The Atlanta Beltline, Inc. has purchased a number of properties with a typical purchase price of $1 million per acre, i.e., 680 Dallas Street, 1.8 acres, purchased at $2 million, 544 Angier Avenue, .46 acre, purchased for $1.4443 million, 690 Morgan Street, .59 acre, purchased for $500,000, etc. Several parcels were purchased by Georgia Power from the City of Atlanta and then sold back to the Atlanta Beltline, Inc. for seemly huge profits, i.e., O Dallas Street, .1756 acre, was sold to Georgia Power on November 30, 2002 by the City of Atlanta for $350,000 and resold to the Atlanta Beltline Inc. on December 21, 2007 for $3,485,000,” the 2010 audit stated.
“The Beltline has its own offices at 86 Pryor Street, employs a full-time staff of 75, including a President and Chief Executive Officer, an Executive Assistant to the President, a Chief Operating Officer, a General Counsel, a Director of Community Engagement, an External Affairs Manager, a Director of Design, a Director of Finance, a Director of Communications, a Director of Real Estate, a Program Management Officer, a Senior Landscape Architect, a Director of Transit and Transportation, etc.,” the audit noted.
“The Taxpayers Foundation strongly feels that during the current and projected economic environment, the Beltline should be reconsidered by the Mayor and City Council. From the points of view of ridership, costs, and technical considerations, a $2.8 billion project is simply not feasible in the current economic environment nor in the foreseeable economic future,” FCTF said.