Clayton County Citizens Will Get to Vote on MARTA Penny this November
(APN) JONESBORO — In an eleventh hour, nail biting, last ditch effort, the Clayton County Board of Commissioners, in a three to one vote, on Saturday, July 05, 2014, agreed to let Clayton citizens decide on the one penny sales tax to fund MARTA services in a November 04, 2014 referendum.
Chairman Jeffrey Turner, and Commissioners Shana Rooks (District 3) and Sonna Singleton (District 1) voted to allow the referendum on the penny sales tax.
Michael Edmondson (District 4), the Commissioner’s only White member who represents part of the more affluent areas in the County, was the lone dissenter this time, with Gail Hambrick (District 2) intentionally absent, and Singleton switching her vote.
As previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, the Commission had voted earlier in the week to allow a half-penny referendum, but the MARTA Board of Directors did not support the plan because MARTA felt that only a full penny would be fair to MARTA’s other participating jurisdictions, that is, DeKalb County, Fulton County, and the City of Atlanta.
The MARTA proposal calls for a one cent tax to be levied in Clayton County and paid to MARTA.
It is an agreement that calls for bus service, and a plan for commuter rail or a high capacity transit option.
The agreement, obtained by APN, calls for the creation for an escrow account; and all funds not spent for the bus service will be deposited and retained until the rail lines or a high capacity transit option is developed. The money held in that account will be used exclusively for development, operation, and construction of one of those two systems.
Singleton voted against the one cent tax on Tuesday, July 01, but changed her vote to yes on Saturday. Hers was the deciding vote that could finally allow MARTA into Clayton County.
“The citizens said ‘Let me vote,’ on it, and so that is what I’m doing… giving them the opportunity to vote on it. I’m not going to make that decision for them. I still have some concerns about the MARTA contract, but I’ve got the reassurance that we will be able to work through those kinks,” Singleton gave as her reason for the change of heart.
In a letter sent out to her constituents Commissioner Hambrick stated, among other things, that, “Unfortunately, like many of you on this Fourth of July weekend I have long standing plans that will not allow me to attend the special called meeting on Saturday, July 5th at 10:00 A.M.”
It was feared that none of the three Commissioners who voted for the half cent tax would show and there would not be a quorum. Fortunately, for Clayton citizens who could benefit from mass transit options, that did not happen.
Hambrick, in her letter, said the the half-penny option was MARTA’s idea, because MARTA’s administration had created a plan for bus service only based solely on the half penny. However, MARTA was simply presenting research regarding the feasibility of various options to the Commission and to the agency’s Board. Hamrick was thus attempting to deflect responsibility by making it seem like MARTA had gone back on a promise that the agency had, in fact, not made.
Commissioner Edmondson stuck to his no vote, asked lots of questions, and wanted amendments made to the contract. Edmondson’s questions took the County Attorney Jack Hancock down the rabbit hole with worst-case scenarios of what could happen.
“I am confident that MARTA is not going to go bankrupt,” Robert Ashe, Chairman of MARTA’s Board of Directors, assured Edmondson. “We are committed that if Clayton is willing to trust us as a partner, we will earn that trust every day.”
“It is our one hundred percent commitment that the contract we sent out… was intended to give Clayton County an enforceable guarantee that if you will move from a half cent to one cent, that extra half cent will be put in an escrow account and used to plan, design, and build a high capacity transit option. Specifically commuter rail, with the option that if that proved totally impossible to do, another high capacity option,” Ashe told the Commission.
The other three Commissions were concerned, however, that if they changed the proposal, the MARTA Board could not get a quorum by the next day, and they would miss the July 06 deadline. The deadline for putting the referendum on the ballot was a function of the Legislature’s deadline for the referendum passing, as previously reported by APN.
The three hundred-plus packed audience got impatient with Edmondson’s dissent and mistrust of the contract, and they started shouting, “LET US VOTE, LET US VOTE, LET US VOTE!”
Rooks called the motion and the one cent tax passed to cheers, hugs, and loud celebrations throughout the meeting room.
If Clayton voters approve the deal and the surrounding jurisdictions also agree, Clayton County will have public transportation next year. Residents of Fulton and DeKalb counties are currently paying a one cent sales tax for MARTA.
“Our goal is to have the first buses running on the day the first tax is collected which is March 01, 2015. Then ramp up bus service on July 01, and full bus service a year later,” Keith Parker, General Manager/CEO of MARTA, told APN.
According to the Clayton Extension Report, there are eight planned fixed routes for bus service in Clayton County. Route 1 and 1A, State Road (SR) 85/Riverdale/SR 138; Route 2, Old Dixie/Tara; Route 3, SR 54 Jonesboro; Route 4, Conley/SR 42/Mt.Zion; Route 5, Forest Parkway; Route 6, Church/Upper Riverdale/Mt Zion; Route 7, Valley Hill/Battlecreek; and Route 8, SR 138.
Proposed bus transit hubs or transfer points are Mountain View, Fort Gillem, Morrow, Riverdale, Justice Center, and Lovejoy.
With public transportation, sick and elderly residents will finally have a reliable way to get to the doctor or hospital. Students will be able to go back to school or college. Those without a car can use MARTA to find a job and have a reliable way to get to work.
As reported by the Saporta Report, one factor in Singleton’s changed vote, is the fact that having the Clayton MARTA referendum on the General Election ballot in November, could help Democratic turnout in the county, thus helping Democrats such as State Sen. Jason Carter (D-Decatur), who is running for Governor.
APN has also learned that former State Rep. Roberta Abdul-Salaam (D-Riverdale) is considering running for a District seat on the Clayton County Commission. Rep. Abdul-Salaam previously ran for County Chairperson and lost to Turner.