Bigger decision likely awaits Clayton voters in November

MARTA referendum probable for general election

Curt Yeomans

Curt Yeomans

The primary election and the SPLOST referendum are behind us, but Clayton County must prepare for what is to come in November.

Many of the local races are done in the county. There are no Republicans seeking school board or county commission seats. There is an independent named Walter Nix who is planning to run against Commissioner Sonna Singleton, but he still has to gather the number of signatures required under law to get his name on the ballot.

Still, Clayton County voters will likely have more on their plate in November than a smattering of state races to vote for.

In fact, there will probably be another referendum put before Clayton County voters this fall and this one could arguably be viewed as a bigger deal than the SPLOST one was.

The transit issue in Clayton County has drawn the attention of a lot of groups outside of the county.

MARTA officials have been watching and would likely use Clayton County as a test case to try and convince Cobb and Gwinnett counties to opt in on paying the sales tax. Cobb and Gwinnett are the only other counties allowed to participate in the system under the 1965 MARTA Act.

Other transit advocacy groups and the Sierra Club of Georgia have also been watching the transit issue in the county.

When a forum on Southern Regional Medical Center’s need for SPLOST dollars was held last Saturday, only a few people showed up and most of them were employees of the hospital.

When the transit study input meetings were held last month, it was nearly standing room only.

The stakes are high here.

Although county commissioners have not decided to hold a referendum on MARTA as part of the November general election, the signs are pointing to that happening.

The feeling I’ve been getting for months surrounding this transit issue has been that we are ultimately moving to a question of whether the county should opt in to paying a tax to get MARTA bus and rail service.

County officials may not be willing to say that but come on already.

We all knew it was a possibility last summer when Commission Chairman Jeff Turner and Chief Operating Officer Arrelle Anderson announced at a town hall forum that a transit study was going to be conducted.

When Rep. Mike Glanton (D-Jonesboro) introduced House Bill 1009 earlier this year, it became increasingly likely that this would become an issue of whether the county opted in to MARTA.

SPLOST was about continuing an existing sales tax. The MARTA referendum would be about adding a new one that would take Clayton County’s sales tax to 8-percent.

Only Atlanta has a sales tax rate that high, according to the Georgia Department of Revenue website.

In recent weeks, I’ve noticed that talk about holding a MARTA referendum ramping up among commissioners. Meetings and negotiations are taking place. Commissioners are talking about doing a half-penny versus a whole penny.

Turner was recently quoted in the Saporta Report piece as being in favor of the whole penny option.

Folks, there is 99 percent chance that there will be a MARTA referendum in November whether you like it or not.

And if it’s on the ballot, it will likely pass whether some people like it or not.

Curt Yeomans is a senior reporter for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached via email at cyeomans@news-daily.com or on Twitter at @CYeomansCND.