Officials discussed Sandy Springs’ upcoming TSPLOST ballot question—including a brief debate about its cost and “consequences”—at a Leadership Sandy Springs lunch Oct. 20 at the Wyndham Atlanta Galleria hotel.
The 0.75 percent, five-year transportation special local option sales tax boost will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot in Fulton County (and is already available for early voters), excluding the city of Atlanta, which has its own TSPLOST question. The Fulton revenues would be divided among cities by population, giving Sandy Springs up to $119 million, the county estimates, to spend on a list of nine traffic-relief projects.
Panelist Benita Dodd, the vice president of the conservative Georgia Public Policy Foundation, said that, while Sandy Springs has a good TSPLOST list, she thinks such tax boosts are bad in principle.
“Let me say first, I am not a fan of SPLOSTs…The thing about SPLOSTs is, they tend to become routine,” Dodd said, warning the project lists can become “populated with wants instead of needs.”
Dodd pointed to the small city of Mountain Park, which she said is estimated to receive about $500,000 from the TSPLOST for traffic congestion relief projects. “The only congestion I have come across in Mountain Park is deer and turkeys,” she said.
“This is a 10 percent tax increase—more than 10 percent,” Dodd said of the proposed TSPLOST, which would bring Fulton’s total sales tax to 7.75 percent.
Sandy Springs City Manager John McDonough, another panelist, responded by pointing to the broader economic impacts of traffic congestion.
“I think in fairness, we ought to talk to the other side of that, which is the consequences of doing nothing,” McDonough said, warning of continued “gridlock, the lack of [transportation] infrastructure, the potential loss of jobs.”
Perimeter Center’s offices are the local “economic engine,” McDonough noted, saying that if traffic gets too bad, the area might start losing major employers.
The third panelist, Fulton Chief Operating Officer Todd Long, said he thinks a sales tax is fair way to supplement funding for the backlog of transportation projects because many consumer items, like a “bag of chips,” is delivered by roads. He noted that the only ongoing revenue sources for transportation projects are property taxes, which go into the general fund, and gas taxes, which have declining revenues as vehicle fuel efficiency increases.
Within the city of Atlanta, voters will decide two transportation sales tax ballot questions: a 0.4 percent TSPLOST boost and a 0.5 percent MARTA boost, which combined would bring the city’s sales tax total to 8.9 percent. Moderator David Rubinger, publisher of the Atlanta Business Chronicle and a Sandy Springs resident, asked whether the fate of the Atlanta transportation questions is significant to the success of projects in the Sandy Springs version.
“I think it does matter. It’s all interconnected,” said McDonough, noting the regional planning approach to the Fulton TSPLOST. He noted that the original plan was for all Fulton cities, including Atlanta, to join in a single TSPLOST, but that foundered when some north Fulton mayors would not agree to include MARTA funding.
“To Atlanta’s credit, they really took a hard line on that,” said McDonough, praising Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed for working to ensure a MARTA funding question made that city’s ballot.
The city of Sandy Springs backs the idea of extending MARTA’s Red Line into north Fulton, McDonough noted, adding that he expects other cities’ attitudes on public transit will “evolve” in coming years.
One item the TSPLOST could fund is further study and right of way acquisition of a possible Perimeter Center alternative transit system, where such ideas as a monorail or cable cars have been put on the table. McDonough again emphasized how wide-open the brainstorming stage of the “people-mover system” thinking is, saying the final result “could be autonomous cars, could be something overhead,” among many possibilities.
Asked by an audience member about possible ride-sharing programs, McDonough said, “I think all options are on the table…We actually got a bike sharing company that’s been banging our door down.” A bike rental program likely will come eventually, he said, adding it is probably a couple of years away as the city builds out its trail infrastructure.
Another audience question addressed a controversial TSPLOST item: turning the Mount Vernon Highway/Johnson Ferry Road intersection into dual roundabouts. The question related to possible impact on a historic neighborhood to the south, which McDonough said will not be affected. “I think the most important thing is communication,” he said of planning that and other TSPLOST projects, noting they went through public reviews.
For a full list of TSPLOST projects and funding details, see the city’s website here.