By Joel Hall
A week after the Clayton County Board of Commissioners (BOC) voted 4-1 to end the county's C-TRAN bus service, the board has called for a study to determine the potential economic impact of its decision.
On Tuesday, the board voted to task the Clayton County Department of Economic Development with producing an economic-impact study. The proposal, made by board Vice Chairman Wole Ralph, was passed unanimously by the board.
Ralph said the point of the study will be to determine "what it means for the county" to lose C-TRAN.
The study will discuss "the impact [on] jobs and the impact of those affected on the [C-TRAN] system," Ralph said. Clayton County Economic Development Director Grant Wainscott has "already done a preliminary analysis based on the numbers. He is going to provide us with more details," Ralph added.
Before voting to ask the Department of Economic Development to conduct the study, the board voted 4-1, with Clayton County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell opposed, to remove from the agenda a proposal by Bell to have an impact study conducted by a consultant.
Bell said his proposed C-TRAN impact study called for a professional consultant to determine the impact that cutting C-TRAN would have on employment, housing, tax revenues, school enrollment, services, and federal grant obligations. The proposal also called for suggested measures to address potential problems caused by the elimination of C-TRAN and asked for the consultant to "identify and assess potential funding mechanisms for C-TRAN," according to a copy of the proposal provided by Bell.
"Theirs is simply an economic-impact analysis," Bell said. "As you look at what I offered up ... mine will talk about housing, the impact on jobs, tax revenue, schools, and so on. The benchmark, defining calculation is here ... the potential of funding mechanisms for it [C-TRAN], the assessment of regulatory and legal issues."
Bell said another issue that would have been addressed in his proposed impact study would be what funds the county may have to repay to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). According to Bell, the county has received millions of dollars from the FTA in grant money to help run the C-TRAN service.
"Is the federal government going to make us pay back that money because of the relatively young age of the buses?" Bell said. "What legislation and related process should we seek to use?"
Ralph said the study the board has voted to pursue will use "in-house" resources and eliminate duplication of information.
"The chairman's analysis was going to duplicate information that MARTA [which operates C-TRAN] and our economic development director were already in the process of providing to us," Ralph said. "We recognize that there may be some [federal] obligations. Our preliminary analysis indicates that the pay-back amount is significantly less than the $10 million a year that we are currently paying on C-TRAN."
Several members of the audience, some who had protested the board's decision to end C-TRAN, expressed anger at the idea of an impact study coming after the vote to end the service.
"People came to you for months asking you not to remove C-TRAN and what did you say? ... Get rid of these buses," said Ricardo Brown. "Now you say, 'we're going to do an impact study' after you shut the bus down. Why didn't you do an impact study before you shut down C-TRAN?"
"I notice that you pulled the impact study," said Shonie Butler. "Once again, it is about the dollars and cents. My suggestion to you, once again, is get on the bus. If you want know what the impact of it is to terminate the service, you should get on the bus."
Bell said he hopes the county's study will help change the minds of some of the commissioners about C-TRAN.
"This is a chance to find a solution to this problem," Bell said. "I'm still hopeful that our commissioners will have a change of heart."
Wainscott was not present at Tuesday night's commission meeting. He said by phone that he was "unprepared" to talk about the impact study on Tuesday.