ALPHARETTA, Ga. — There is a glimmer of hope yet for reviving the county-wide transportation sales tax set to expire next year.
The .75-cent sales tax has generated tens of millions of dollars to Fulton County cities since it was passed through referendum in 2016. Alpharetta, itself, was expected to receive more then $60 million over the five-year term of the tax. Although collections are shy of the pace to meet the earlier estimate, Alpharetta officials say they have put the money to good use, helping relieve congestion, improve safety and expand pedestrian travel.
Following a Jan. 8 conference call between mayors and the Fulton County Commission, Alpharetta Mayor Jim Gilvin said that a majority of cities, representing more than 60 percent of the county population outside Atlanta, appear to be on board for an extension of the sales tax — but only if none of the money is committed to transit. The news comes in contrast to a report Gilvin made last month when he said a majority of mayors from other cities had little interest in the idea.
By law, reviving the tax through referendum would require consent from elected officials in a combination of Fulton County cities — excluding Atlanta — representing 60 percent of the population.
Gilvin delivered the report through City Administrator Bob Regus at the Jan. 11 City Council meeting. The mayor attended the meeting via internet, observing a quarantine due to possible exposure to COVID-19.
Regus said through special legislation passed five years ago, extending the sales tax would require a referendum be placed on the Nov. 2, 2021 ballot. He said the mayor wanted to make the report so the City Council and the public have time to make their feelings known on a proposed extension.
“Of course, you won’t be voting on anything until all the details are worked out, but there’s a tight timeline,” Regus said.
The timeline would require:
- From February-May, cities would develop a project list based on anticipated revenues from the tax over the five-year term.
- In June, cities would finalize and adopt the project lists.
- In July, a special meeting would be held to discuss the project lists, and intergovernmental agreements between cities would be executed.
- By August, the resolution calling for the referendum would be signed by the county and forwarded to the election superintendent.
“I would hate to see this go away because it funds so much of what we do as a city,” Alpharetta City Councilman Ben Burnett said.
Late last year, when it looked like the TSPLOST would expire without renewal, Burnett suggested Alpharetta initiate its own municipal sales tax of .75 cents. He argued that because Alpharetta has a stronger retail presence than most neighboring cities, it collects more sales tax than it gets back. Fulton County distributes TSPLOST sales tax revenues based on population.
“I think more than any city in the state of Georgia, Alpharetta does a good job with the consumption-based revenues that we get,” Burnett said. “People come her from Cherokee County or Gwinnett (County), and they’re paying into that pot of money. I wish that it was more evenly distributed by point-of-sale, but that is unlikely.”
Along those lines, Councilman Jason Binder said he’d like to see the tax decentralized, out of county-wide control.
“I think all the cities could just go on their own and figure out if they want to have it or not, so we’re not in one ship with a couple of other cities that may or may not want it because they have different reasons,” Binder said.
The first order of business for the cities to decide is whether they want to exclude transit and devote all money to road and pedestrian projects.
The mayor said he wants to ensure the council and residents are in general agreement that the transportation tax has benefitted the city.
“I think the chances are pretty good at this point that we will be able to come up with a new list and work with the other cities in the county to get it on the ballot,” Gilvin said. “I’m optimistic at this point, much more so than I was a couple of weeks ago.”