DeKalb residents had a chance to comment to state leaders about the 2012 referendum to add a one-cent sales tax for transportation projects at a meeting on Aug. 22 at the Tucker Reid H. Cofer Library.
Benny Matthews, of Tucker, said state leaders need to address the “fairness issue.”
“In DeKalb, we’ve been picking up the tab on this MARTA bill for a good while now,” Matthews said. “DeKalb should at least opt out of this for a couple of years. We’re paying a higher tax than the other eight counties.”
DeKalb County, along with Fulton County and the city of Atlanta, has been paying a one-penny sales tax for 30 years to support MARTA.
As the result of the Transportation Investment Act (HB 277), residents of the 10-county metropolitan Atlanta area will vote on a penny-sales tax to fund various transportation projects, including transit, roadway safety, bicycle and pedestrian improvements.
Of the approximately $1 billion in DeKalb projects still being considered by the Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable are approximately $200 million in roadway and sidewalk improvements, and a Clifton corridor to connect the Doraville or North Springs stations to the Avondale station.
The list also has $225 million for an I-20 East rail project. County leaders were hoping for enough funding to extend the MARTA rail system from the Indian Creek station to the Stonecrest Mall area in Lithonia. Instead, that amount would only fund park-and-ride bus stations at Stonecrest Mall, Candler Road, DeKalb Medical Center and Wesley Chapel, according to a MARTA official.
“Everybody’s a little upset,” said Ted Rhinehart, the county’s deputy chief operating officer for infrastructure. “Nobody got everything they were asking for. Everything took a haircut, so to speak.”
DeKalb resident Mark Pozner said the transit system should not be the main focus of regional transportation projects. Instead, leaders should resurrect plans for an outer perimeter around Atlanta.
“All you’ve got to do is drive up [Interstate] 285 at anytime of the day practically now to know that this is a disaster getting worse and worse,” Pozner said. “You got to do something about traffic.
“You can talk all day about expanding MARTA all over the place,” Pozner said. “But it’s already becoming a strangle on this regional community. I don’t see how we’re going to be able to remain competitive economically with the rest of the country if we don’t deal with this problem.”
DeKalb officials in the state’s General Assembly said the transportation referendum is unlikely to get enough support from DeKalb voters.
“I don’t see it passing in Fulton and DeKalb,” said Sen. Fran Millar (R-40), during a public forum on the proposed penny sales tax. “If it goes down in Fulton and DeKalb, the whole thing’s meaningless.”
Rep. Howard Mosby (D-90) said he has a “fundamental problem” with the process of selecting projects for referendum.
“My only issue is that we’re doing the work of the DOT,” Mosby said. “The DOT has veto [and] final authority, but we’re doing all the work for them. Then we’re going to turn around and then fund that.”
Another comment time for DeKalb County residents is scheduled for Sept. 28 in the Maloof Auditorium. The regional roundtable has until Oct. 15 to finalize the project list, which will go to voters in a regional referendum next year.
The referendum is currently scheduled for July 2012, but state lawmakers are considering a proposal by Gov. Nathan Deal to move the referendum to the general election in November 2012.
Rep. Scott Holcomb (D-82) said he supports the changing the vote to November 2012.
“I think that will give us more time to debate it, talk about it and hopefully come up with a better plan,” Holcomb said.