Friday, January 22, 2010

Council ponders penny sales tax for public safety

Posted By on Fri, Jan 22, 2010 at 7:10 PM


Pennies — the redheaded stepchild of coinage — add up. Politicians know this.

On Jan. 19, Atlanta City Councilmembers said they needed more time to discuss whether Gold Dome lawmakers should push for a penny sales tax in Atlanta that would help fund improved public safety facilities and equipment — and possibly pay for more cops and firefighters down the line.

Councilman Michael Julian Bond, who along with several other first-term councilmembers introduced the proposal, estimates there’s approximately $287 million worth of repairs and renovations needed to bring public safety up to speed. He says the penny tax hike could generate an estimated $100 million each year — approximately 30 percent of which would be generated by non-Atlanta residents who visit or work in the city.

Revenue generated by the extra penny would go toward replacing the city’s aging fire trucks and cop cars — half of which Bond says are in disrepair — and renovating fire stations and police precincts throughout the city. (If you'd like a spreadsheet of the proposed improvements, send me a line.)

If city council gives its OK, Atlanta’s Gold Dome delegation would then have to pass the measure. Residents would ultimately vote on the one-cent tax hike in 2011, right as another penny sales tax that funds school projects expires. If it passed, it would take effect in 2012.

The timing is crucial, Bond says. State lawmakers meet for 40 days. Should a bill not reach either the House or Senate before the halfway point, it's very difficult to make progress on an issue until the next legislative session.

"I'm not trying to be a bull in the china shop," Bond told his colleagues. "But I am aware that if this doesn't make it across the street [in time], it may die."

There's also the proposed statewide penny sales tax referendum for transportation that Gov. Sonny Perdue would like to see on the 2012 ballot. Should that pass, Atlantans — who already pay several pennies in sales tax to fund MARTA, education projects and the $4 billion sewer overhaul — would be asked to fork over another penny to provide much-needed funding for local roads, bridges and transit projects.

Councilman Howard Shook worried what kind of message the desired sales tax hike would send to residents — and the various interest groups who’ve lobbied for pennies to fund public arts, transportation, sidewalk repairs and basically anything under the sun. Shook asked the city's finance department for a full rundown of sales taxes in the city, when they expired, and more information about the proposal.

But Councilman Ivory Young, who represents Vine City and other neighborhoods hard hit by crime, said his constituents wanted to see action on public safety improvements.

"I get calls," Young said. "Yesterday morning in the AM there was another attempted robbery. On the same street where there was a murder a month ago. They're tired of the rhetoric."

Council, however, voted to send Bond's proposal to the Finance and Executive Committee, where it will be discussed on Wednesday at 2 p.m.. Young's was the lone vote against that idea.

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