A couple in White County, Ga., found a roaming buffalo trapped in their back yard swimming pool last October. County rescue workers removed the buffalo and returned it to the owner who sadly had to euthanize the injured animal.
It occurred to me, after reading the newspaper story, that a section of House Bill 277 is the “buffalo” in Fayette County’s swimming pool and deserves the poor buffalo’s fate when the legislature convenes.
What is House Bill 277? It is the transportation bill passed by the General Assembly in 2010 dividing the state into 12 special districts which coincide geographically with existing regional planning commissions. Fayette, Cherokee Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry, and Rockdale counties are in the same special district because they are a part of the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC).
The legislation additionally creates “roundtables” of elected politicians within each special district required to compile a list of transportation projects to be paid for with a proposed 1 percent sales tax increase throughout the entire special district for a period of 10 years.
Fayette County representatives to our special district roundtable are Herb Frady, the new chairman of the County Commission, and Fayetteville Mayor Ken Steele, who have little influence within the ARC power structure. Neither is on the roundtable’s powerful executive committee, which is meeting behind closed doors to compile the project list for consideration by the roundtable. They will have only two of the 20 votes on roundtable issues.
The tax increase and roundtable package of projects will be approved or rejected by voters in the special district in the 2012 primary election. If Fayette voters reject the package at the polls and it carries by a majority of voters in the 10-county special district, Fayette shoppers will still pay the additional sales tax for 10 years and the transportation projects we opposed will be crammed down our throat.
The odds of this scenario becoming a reality are near certain. Fayette County has only 70,517 of the 2,228,894 registered voters in the 10-county special district, reflecting 3.2 percent of eligible voters. These numbers guarantee that the transportation interests of counties such as Fulton, Cobb, DeKalb and Clayton will prevail when the votes are counted. Fayette County residents should not be placed in this untenable position without an opportunity to withdraw from the process.
A simple solution is available. The law can be changed to permit any county with less than 5 percent of the registered voters in the special district to “opt out” with no penalty by majority vote of the County Commission, provided the county is located on the geographical boundary of the special district.
The “opt-out” provision would only apply to Fayette and Douglas counties in our 10-county special district, and it will have no major effect on the overall plan for the more populous counties.
I call on Representatives Matt Ramsey and Virgil Fludd along with Senator Ronnie Chance to help get the buffalo out of our back yard pool by promoting this change in the law.
Our legislators will have stiff opposition from the Governor’s office but can get strong support from rural legislators who are generally unhappy with the entire process in their respective special districts.
It is noteworthy to mention that some members of the Atlanta Regional Commission and some elected officials in Fulton County want to use the proposed sales tax revenue to extend MARTA to Fairburn, modify the Highway 74/I-85 interchange and create a MARTA-connected commuter system to Tyrone or Peachtree City.
The politicians who consistently tell us not to worry because the proposed sales tax can’t be used for MARTA should read the entire 38-page bill. The bill created a Transit Governance Study Commission to study the feasibility of combining all of the regional public transportation entities into an integrated regional transit body.
It was also carefully crafted to exclude MARTA operation from the project list while permitting use of the new sales tax for MARTA capital expenditures. This spells MARTA construction and expansion to Gwinnett, Cobb and points south.
Under the present arrangement, the Peachtree City Development Authority may be able to adopt a new motto in 2012: “Support MARTA by shopping at The Avenue.”
[Scott Bradshaw, a resident of Peachtree City, is a real estate broker and residential real estate developer. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]