Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Deadline nears for Clayton MARTA question

Posted By on Wed, Jun 18, 2014 at 11:05 AM

Clayton State University student Jeremy Sistrunk says students need transit to fill up the offices opening nearby.
  • Clayton State University student Jeremy Sistrunk says students need transit to fill up the offices opening nearby.

Can MARTA get an amen?

Well, it did from a packed room at a Clayton County Commission meeting Tuesday night.

"No serious metropolis can call itself progressive and cutting edge if it has not the ability to move its citizens," said Jerome Dukes, of the Association of Clayton County Christian Ministers, addressing the five commissioners.

"Our citizens, I believe they want it, amen," said Dukes, gesturing to the crowd behind him.

"Amen!" was the reply.

Now the commission must decide if it will ask county voters for an amen, in the form of a sales tax for transit and approval to become the third county served by MARTA.

If the commission decides to have a November referendum, they then must decide whether to ask for a penny or a half-penny.

A Thursday commission meeting is scheduled to discuss options. They must take action by a July 2 deadline for putting the question on the ballot.

A penny would bring county sales tax to 8 percent, on par with the city of Atlanta. DeKalb and Fulton sales taxes come to 7 percent, including their MARTA pennies.

With the full penny, MARTA rail could run through the county by 2040, as well as speedy, frequent buses according to a feasibility study by Tindale-Oliver & Associates, a consultancy.

"There is a significant transit need in Clayton County," Tindale-Oliver COO Bill Ball told the Commission.

The meeting opened with the unrelated announcement that lighting company AVICS Korea will open their U.S. headquarters in Clayton County, initially employing about 25 people, with a possibility of expansion to hundreds of jobs.

"We need to fill their offices but we can't do that if we can't get back and forth," said Clayton State University student Jeremy Sistrunk, speaking in favor of a referendum. "This is not the most well-off place in the world. We don't have cars."

A network of buses could start rolling as early as 2016 if the commission and voters approve the penny, per the study. The tax would be expected to generate about $49 million a year.

The county's C-Tran bus network closed in 2010 due to a budget crunch.

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