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Clayton County Board of Commissioners votes to levy only half-cent sales tax to enter MARTA

Clayton County commission Clerk Shelby Haywood, front left, reads letters from Norfolk Southern and MARTA officials during the commission meeting. (Staff Photo: Curt Yeomans)

Clayton County commission Clerk Shelby Haywood, front left, reads letters from Norfolk Southern and MARTA officials during the commission meeting. (Staff Photo: Curt Yeomans)

JONESBORO — Residents packing the Clayton County Board of Commissioners’ chambers Tuesday night left chanting “vote them out.”

They were presumably referring to commissioners Sonna Singleton, Gail Hambrick and Michael Edmondson who voted in the majority to put a binding referendum on the November ballot that would levy only a half-cent property tax to opt into MARTA.

“I don’t feel comfortable with an 8-percent sales tax in our county right now,” said Singleton amidst a chorus of groans from residents.

Supporters have been pushing for a full-penny tax and MARTA officials said during this and previous meetings that MARTA would likely not accept Clayton County join as a voting member of its board with anything less.

“I feel strongly the MARTA Board will not approve half-cent participation,” MARTA Board Chairman Robbie Ashe said at Tuesday’s meeting.

MARTA Board will meet Wednesday morning to vote on whether to allow Clayton County onto its board with the half-penny sales tax.

He and MARTA CEO Keith Parker stressed the company was already offering Clayton County benefits it didn’t offer any of its other members should the county opt in with a full penny. For instance, the county’s one penny would stay in Clayton County.

Half of the penny would go toward a bus service and the other half would go into a sort of savings account that could benefit Clayton County in the future — whether or not rail was possible.

And rail might be a part of the problem. The three commissioners’ reservations against the full penny likely stemmed from a letter from Norfolk Southern’s General Director of Passenger Policy John Edwards cautioning the board against thinking using the train company’s existing track would be at all cost or time efficient.

“Instituting rail service over Norfolk Southern’s route would not be cheap, fast or easy,” Edwards wrote. “We have discovered over time that inevitably public entities dramatically underestimate the costs associated with the introduction of commuter service.”

The news may have spooked Singleton, Edmondson and Hailbrick, but Rook felt limiting the tax levied would be a mistake.

“I think we will lose our opportunity,” she said. “We’re going to lose our opportunity if we go with the half penny.”

Turner felt similarly.

“We’re building a better Clayton County today,” he said. “We don’t need to wait until tomorrow — we’re making a better Clayton County today.