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Board of Commissioners members are waiting for more financial information to keep talking about MARTA

Commissioners asked MARTA General Manager Keith Parker questions about cost, routes and representation on the MARTA board at Thursday afternoon’s special called meeting. (Photo by Cailin O’Brien)

Commissioners asked MARTA General Manager Keith Parker questions about cost, routes and representation on the MARTA board at Thursday afternoon’s special called meeting. (Photo by Cailin O’Brien)

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MARTA Chief of Police Wanda Dunham explained to the board MARTA Police’s intention to build a mini-precinct in Clayton County to police the new bus and rail system. (Photo by Cailin O’Brien)

JONESBORO — Clayton County board members expressed hesitation at a special called meeting Thursday afternoon to seriously consider adding a binding referendum to join MARTA without information about what routes might cost and what revenue they might earn.

“It would seem to me that those questions need to be answered before you can look at agreeing to this referendum,” advised Clayton County Attorney Jack Hancock.

But MARTA General Manager Keith Parker said he wasn’t ready to answer those questions at the meeting — which made commissioners uneasy. It has been recommended the county board make a decision about putting a binding referendum on the November ballot about rejoining MARTA by July 1.

“That’s in 12 days,” said Commissioner Michael Edmondson. “Two commissioners have out-of-town meetings before then and there’s no planned meeting between now and then.”

The commissioners must decide whether or not to approve the referendum by July 6.

Parker said MARTA needed to look over information from the transit feasibility study Oliver-Tindale put together for the county before he could provide the board with costs accurate to Clayton County — but he assured members he could have them by Friday.

The preliminary information MARTA would share with the county would show a basic plan of probable routes and their costs. Parker said the language of that basic plan would remain flexible so that Clayton County could be sure to add routes where they were needed most.

“You will determine what routes you get on the bus service,” Parker said. “We are going to give our expertise, but ultimately you will decide what your route structure will look like. You are MARTA.”

But Edmondson pointed out “that’s not exactly true,” since MARTA’s 12-member board has the ultimate decision about all route information. Clayton County would have a voice on the board if it paid the full-penny tax to opt into MARTA. Parker said “it remains to be seen” whether the existing MARTA board would welcome two Clayton County representatives if the county only paid half a penny to opt in.

Even if the county did have two representatives on the board, they would only hold a minority of the votes.

“We have two votes out of 12,” Edmondson said. “We are not MARTA, we are just a voting minority on a large board.”

The board also discussed ensuring MARTA provides Clayton County with a permanent work force, a MARTA police precinct and possible help with infrastructure.

Parker said MARTA plans on a bus service at least double the size of the C-Tran that closed down in 2010 and a rail service that runs “multiple trains per day at the peak hours.” He said MARTA will ensure a permanent work force based out of Clayton County.

The board discussed scheduling another special called meeting to discuss the issue further on June 23 at 6 p.m.