JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — The Johns Creek City Council focused on the Gold Dome Feb. 10, as they discussed ranked choice voting, funding for special needs programs and the transportation sales tax.
This year, discussions at the Capitol have largely focused on the state budget, as income tax revenue has fallen short of expectations and Gov. Brian Kemp has called for significant budget cuts.
The Johns Creek council previously passed a resolution opposing House Bill 302, which would restricts a city’s ability to regulate residential development design standards. Johns Creek joined Alpharetta, Milton and Roswell in their opposition to the legislation, which failed to pass last year but has been revived.
Last week, the council considered other matters they would like to see the Legislature consider.
Instant runoff voting
In a 5-2 vote, the council came down in support of a bill that would allow municipalities and counties to use instant runoff voting for local elections if desired and to set up a study to evaluate the system for future statewide elections.
Instant runoff voting, also known as ranked choice voting, has been adopted statewide in Maine and in a growing number of municipalities across the country. Under a ranked choice system, each voter ranks the candidates from their favorite to the one they least prefer. If one candidate wins an outright majority of first-place support, they win, just like an ordinary winner-take-all race.
If no candidate wins an outright majority, the candidate with the least first-place votes is eliminated. Those who voted for that candidate, their votes are transferred to their second-place choice. This repeats until a candidate wins the majority.
Proponents of ranked choice voting argue it saves taxpayers’ money, prevents spoiler candidates, discourages negative campaigning and gives voters more choice. Critics say that the system is confusing, could discourage people from voting and allows for someone with fewer first-place votes to win an election.
Councilman Chris Coughlin has long supported ranked choice voting, but he was unable to convince council members Lenny Zaprowski and Brian Weaver, who voted against the resolution. Some council members, including Mayor Mike Bodker said they were not necessarily fans of ranked choice voting for Johns Creek but that cities should be given local control.
“I think there’s advantages and disadvantages to each [voting system],” Coughlin said. “This is just expanding your toolbelt, so cities and counties can use what is best for them.”
Special needs waivers
In the work session, the council reached consensus on asking the governor and Legislature to allocate addition funding to a set of programs that supports individuals with special needs.
The New Options Waiver (NOW) and Comprehensive Supports Waiver Program (COMP) provide services for individuals with developmental or intellectual disabilities. The NOW program enables individuals with less intense needs to live independently, while COMP serves people with more urgent needs.
The 2020 budget proposed by Kemp froze funding for NOW and COMP, which would have allowed people currently on the program to stay on but would prevent new people from joining.
Endres, who has a son with special needs, added the item to the agenda and asked the council to advocate for people who are unable to advocate for themselves.
“You have an entire group of families, children and adults that need this money and need it desperately,” she said.
Bodker said he normally would advise the city against getting in the middle of budget disputes, but that he could not ignore the importance of this issue. A resolution asking the state to add funding for these programs will be officially considered at the next council meeting, Feb. 24.
“It took great courage to have the discussion that your brought to the work session,” he said. “I went into it with a fairly close mind, I listened to what you had to say, and there is no question I was moved. I still have a concern, but the concern is irrelevant compared to the issue.”
Transportation sales tax
Councilman John Bradberry brought forward discussion on amending the 2016 state law that created the transportation sales tax, or TSPLOST. Bradberry raised several criticisms of the law, such as the lack of a “sunset clause” or end to the tax and the lack of flexibility.
“I would like there to be some kind of absolute clarity that gives the city some legal protection as it operates with the discretion that I think we already have, but I would like it to be spelled out even more clearly,” he said.
Though the council has disagreed in the past over how to interpret the current TSPLOST law, they were in agreement that parts of the law should be changed. The generic Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) law, unlike TSPLOST, explicitly gives a city council the ability to decide a project is no longer feasible and reallocate those funds.
“If you look at when you put the list together compared to when you vote on it compared to actually doing something, time has moved on,” Bodker said. “You may find you need the ability to move on yourself, with appropriate restrictions because you shouldn’t bait and switch. You shouldn’t say this, then go do something completely different.”
In Fulton County outside of Atlanta, the TSPLOST projects are government by an intergovernmental agreement. While in theory the IGA was done to create a coordinated transportation network, in reality, it just put the cities in a bind, Bodker said.
“If a municipality were to decline participating in the IGA, the intergovernmental agreement with the other cities in Fulton County, then the taxes would be levied, but we would not receive any of the revenue,” Bradberry explained. “To me, that was an unfair hammer.”
This resolution will also be discussed at a future council meeting.