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North Fulton Officials Oppose Beltline's Sales Tax Funding

 

(APN) ATLANTA -- Several North Fulton officials are opposed to the inclusion of 601 million
dollars of funding for the Atlanta Beltline in the draft list passed by the Executive
Committee for the upcoming penny transportation sales tax vote in July 2012.
Under the draft list, the Beltline would receive roughtly ten percent of the total funding
from the penny sales tax, which is 6.14 billion dollars.
If approved, this allocation of sales tax funding would pay for more than one-fifth of the 
Beltline project, which is projected to cost around 2.8 billion dollars.
It is the third biggest allocation of funds from the penny sales tax, following funding towards
a light rail line from Midtown to Cobb County at 856 million dollars, and funding towards a Dekalb
County transit line from Lindbergh Center to Emory University at 700 million, also known as
the Clifton Corridor.
Other mass transit projects included on the August 15, 2011, draft is are: 37 million dollars for
a study for a North MARTA Heavy-Rail Line Extension to SR-140; 95 million for the I-85 North Transit Corridor, seed
money to start developing a light-rail transit line to Gwinnett County;
and 225 million dollars for a study of a possible MARTA Heavy East Rail Line Extension from
Indian Creek to Wesley Chapel.
There will be several upcoming meetings in September thoughout Metro Atlanta, for residents to 
speak out about the final list, to be adopted October 13, 2011.
There will be a Public Meeting this Thursday, September 15, 2011, from 6pm-8pm, at Atlanta City
Council Chambers.
The Full Atlanta Regional Roundtable will meeting this Friday, September 16, 2011, from 9-11am,
at the Atlanta Regional Commission offices at the Charles Loudermilk Center in downtown Atlanta.
There will be a Public Meeting next Wednesday, September 21, 2011, from 6pm-8pm, at the North 
Fulton Service Center at 7741 Roswell Road, Sandy Springs, Georgia.
There will be a Public Meeting the following Wednesday, September 28, 2011, from 6-8pm, at the
South Fulton Service Center at 5600 Stonewall Tell Road, College Park, Georgia.
The controversial funding for the Beltline is sure to be a topic at some of these meetings.
On August 23, 2011, Matthew Quinn, Editor of the Johns Creek Herald, published an editorial,
"Money slated for the Beltline better spent on regional, North Fulton projects," which recalled
an August 18 meeting of the North Fulton Municipal Association.
At this August 18 meeting, Johns Creek Mayor Mike Bodker, Roswell Mayor Jere Wood, and 
Sandy Springs Mayor Eva Galambos took issue with the inclusion of funding for the Beltline in the
draft project list.
"The instruction all of us were given when we put in our requests for projects, it had to
be of regional significance, it had to be connecting between jurisdictions, and it had to provide congestion relief," 
Mayor Galambos told Atlanta Progressive News.
"The Beltline is a very nice economic development program, but it is not a regional transportation
initiative," Galambos said.
"At no place does it coincide with a MARTA station.  There's no way there's any connectivity,"
Galambos said.
However, Ashley Robbins of Citizens for Progressive Transit said the plan is for the Beltline to
ultimately connect with MARTA at four stations.
Still, "The most important issue with congestion is people trying to get from home to work and back.
The Beltline does not connect with any major employment centers," Galambos said.
Galambos said it is primarily an economic development project as opposed to a transportation project,
pointing to the Beltline's own website.
"They speak of three thousand acres of under-utilized properties.  The financing for the Beltline
is sixty percent raised by the Tax Allocation District," Galambos noted.
When APN pointed out that the financing model of the TAD presumes that property values will go up
enough to pay the bonds back with interest, Galambos replied, "Do you think that's happening now?
That's why they want this [sales tax] money."
Galambos said she would rather some of the sales tax money be spent on a widening of Hammond Drive,
which she said is an important east-west connection.
"It depends on what you want the Transportation Investment Act to be," Robbins told APN.
"If you are thinking a regional bill that will mitigate
congestion, the Beltline isn't necessarily it.  That's not what the Beltline is designed to do.
The Beltline is an economic development project.  It will be a huge boost to the region.  It is not 
going to be a project that's designed to reduce traffic.  It's about providing residents who live 
along the corridor, access to jobs," Robbins said.
According to one source, the Beltline did not meet the criteria originally established by the Roundtable,
but Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed pressured the Roundtable to revise its criteria so the Beltline would be
eligible for funding.
A recent newsletter of the Fulton County Taxpayers Foundation questioned the feasibility of
the Beltline as well.
"In the midst of the worst economic recession since the Great Depression of 1929, many taxpayers are asking 
whether such a costly project is really feasible.  A great many more are wondering if the Beltline will do all 
that it boasts," the September 2011 FCTF newsletter stated.
The newsletter quotes the City of Atlanta's own feasibility study of the Beltline from several years
ago as stating, "There are very few locations along the projected Beltline where large and dense concentrations of jobs are expected. The 
highest numbers and concentrations of jobs in the City are in Downtown, Midtown, and Buckhead, none of
which would be directly served by the Beltline.  The projected Beltline appears to be mostly residential, not 
the characteristic mix for generating large numbers of Beltline riders.  The Beltline project in its entirety 
will not generate sufficient transit ridership in the corridor to satisfy the criteria or federal New Start transit investments.” 
Despite receiving 78,120,000 dollars in TAD bonds, which were issued in 2008 and reissued in 2009, the
Beltline, as of June 30, 2010, had an operating deficit of 58,084,051 dollars, according to an audit by 
Mauldin & Jenkins.
"The Atlanta Beltline, Inc. has purchased a number of properties with a typical purchase price 
of $1 million per acre, i.e., 680 Dallas Street, 1.8 acres, purchased at $2 million, 544 Angier Avenue, .46 
acre, purchased for $1.4443 million, 690 Morgan Street, .59 acre, purchased for $500,000, etc.  Several parcels 
were purchased by Georgia Power from the City of Atlanta and then sold back to the Atlanta Beltline, 
Inc. for seemly huge profits, i.e., O Dallas Street, .1756 acre, was sold to Georgia Power on November 30, 
2002 by the City of Atlanta for $350,000 and resold to the Atlanta Beltline Inc. on December 21, 2007 for 
$3,485,000," the 2010 audit stated.
"The Beltline has its own offices at 86 Pryor Street, employs a full-time staff of 75, including a President and 
Chief Executive Officer, an Executive Assistant to  the President, a Chief Operating Officer, a General
Counsel, A Director of Community Engagement, an External Affairs Manager, a Director of Design, a 
Director of Finance, a Director of Communications, a Director of Real Estate, a Program Management 
Officer, a Senior Landscape Architect, a Director of Transit and Transportation, etc.," the audit noted.
"The Taxpayers Foundation strongly feels that during the current and projected economic environment, 
the Beltline should be reconsidered by the Mayor and City Council. From the points of view of ridership, 
costs, and technical considerations, a $2.8 billion project is simply not feasible in the current economic 
environment nor in the foreseeable economic future," FCTF said.
(END/2011)

(APN) ATLANTA -- Several North Fulton officials are opposed to the inclusion of 601 million dollars of funding for the Atlanta Beltline in the draft list passed by the Executive Committee for the upcoming penny transportation sales tax vote in July 2012.

Under the draft list, the Beltline would receive roughtly ten percent of the total funding from the penny sales tax, which is 6.14 billion dollars.

If approved, this allocation of sales tax funding would pay for more than one-fifth of the Beltline project, which is projected to cost around 2.8 billion dollars.

It is the third biggest allocation of funds from the penny sales tax, following funding towards a light rail line from Midtown to Cobb County at 856 million dollars, and funding towards a Dekalb County transit line from Lindbergh Center to Emory University at 700 million, also known as the Clifton Corridor.

Other mass transit projects included on the August 15, 2011, draft is are: 37 million dollars for a study for a North MARTA Heavy-Rail Line Extension to SR-140; 95 million for the I-85 North Transit Corridor, which is seed money to start developing a light-rail transit line to Gwinnett County; and 225 million dollars for a study of a possible MARTA Heavy East Rail Line Extension from Indian Creek to Wesley Chapel.

There will be several upcoming meetings in September thoughout Metro Atlanta, for residents to speak out about the final list, to be adopted October 13, 2011.

There will be a Public Meeting this Thursday, September 15, 2011, from 6pm-8pm, at Atlanta City Council Chambers.

The Full Atlanta Regional Roundtable will meeting this Friday, September 16, 2011, from 9-11am, at the Atlanta Regional Commission offices at the Charles Loudermilk Center in downtown Atlanta.

There will be a Public Meeting next Wednesday, September 21, 2011, from 6pm-8pm, at the North Fulton Service Center at 7741 Roswell Road, Sandy Springs, Georgia.

There will be a Public Meeting the following Wednesday, September 28, 2011, from 6-8pm, at the South Fulton Service Center at 5600 Stonewall Tell Road, College Park, Georgia.

The controversial funding for the Beltline is sure to be a topic at some of these meetings.

On August 23, 2011, Matthew Quinn, Editor of the Johns Creek Herald, published an editorial, "Money slated for the Beltline better spent on regional, North Fulton projects," which recalled an August 18 meeting of the North Fulton Municipal Association.

At this August 18 meeting, Johns Creek Mayor Mike Bodker, Roswell Mayor Jere Wood, and Sandy Springs Mayor Eva Galambos took issue with the inclusion of funding for the Beltline in the draft project list.

"The instruction all of us were given when we put in our requests for projects, it had to be of regional significance, it had to be connecting between jurisdictions, and it had to provide congestion relief," Mayor Galambos told Atlanta Progressive News.

"The Beltline is a very nice economic development program, but it is not a regional transportation initiative," Galambos said.

"At no place does it coincide with a MARTA station.  There's no way there's any connectivity," Galambos said.

However, Ashley Robbins of Citizens for Progressive Transit said the plan is for the Beltline to ultimately connect with MARTA at four stations.

Still, "The most important issue with congestion is people trying to get from home to work and back.  The Beltline does not connect with any major employment centers," Galambos said.

Galambos said it is primarily an economic development project as opposed to a transportation project, pointing to the Beltline's own website.

"They speak of three thousand acres of under-utilized properties.  The financing for the Beltline is sixty percent raised by the Tax Allocation District," Galambos noted.

When APN pointed out that the financing model of the TAD presumes that property values will go up enough to pay the bonds back with interest, Galambos replied, "Do you think that's happening now? That's why they want this [sales tax] money."

Galambos said she would rather some of the sales tax money be spent on a widening of Hammond Drive, which she said is an important east-west connection.

"It depends on what you want the Transportation Investment Act to be," Robbins told APN.

"If you are thinking a regional bill that will mitigate congestion, the Beltline isn't necessarily it.  That's not what the Beltline is designed to do.  The Beltline is an economic development project.  It will be a huge boost to the region.  It is not going to be a project that's designed to reduce traffic.  It's about providing residents who live along the corridor, access to jobs," Robbins said.

According to one source, the Beltline did not meet the criteria originally established by the Roundtable, but Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed pressured the Roundtable to revise its criteria so the Beltline would be eligible for funding.

A recent newsletter of the Fulton County Taxpayers Foundation questioned the feasibility of the Beltline as well.

"In the midst of the worst economic recession since the Great Depression of 1929, many taxpayers are asking whether such a costly project is really feasible.  A great many more are wondering if the Beltline will do all that it boasts," the September 2011 FCTF newsletter stated.

The newsletter quotes the City of Atlanta's own feasibility study of the Beltline from several years ago as stating, "There are very few locations along the projected Beltline where large and dense concentrations of jobs are expected. The highest numbers and concentrations of jobs in the City are in Downtown, Midtown, and Buckhead, none of which would be directly served by the Beltline.  The projected Beltline appears to be mostly residential, not the characteristic mix for generating large numbers of Beltline riders.  The Beltline project in its entirety will not generate sufficient transit ridership in the corridor to satisfy the criteria for federal New Start transit investments.” 

Despite receiving 78,120,000 dollars in TAD bonds, which were issued in 2008 and reissued in 2009, the Beltline, as of June 30, 2010, had an operating deficit of 58,084,051 dollars, according to an audit by Mauldin & Jenkins.

"The Atlanta Beltline, Inc. has purchased a number of properties with a typical purchase price of $1 million per acre, i.e., 680 Dallas Street, 1.8 acres, purchased at $2 million, 544 Angier Avenue, .46 acre, purchased for $1.4443 million, 690 Morgan Street, .59 acre, purchased for $500,000, etc.  Several parcels were purchased by Georgia Power from the City of Atlanta and then sold back to the Atlanta Beltline, Inc. for seemly huge profits, i.e., O Dallas Street, .1756 acre, was sold to Georgia Power on November 30, 2002 by the City of Atlanta for $350,000 and resold to the Atlanta Beltline Inc. on December 21, 2007 for $3,485,000," the 2010 audit stated.

"The Beltline has its own offices at 86 Pryor Street, employs a full-time staff of 75, including a President and Chief Executive Officer, an Executive Assistant to the President, a Chief Operating Officer, a General Counsel, a Director of Community Engagement, an External Affairs Manager, a Director of Design, a Director of Finance, a Director of Communications, a Director of Real Estate, a Program Management Officer, a Senior Landscape Architect, a Director of Transit and Transportation, etc.," the audit noted.

"The Taxpayers Foundation strongly feels that during the current and projected economic environment, the Beltline should be reconsidered by the Mayor and City Council.  From the points of view of ridership, costs, and technical considerations, a $2.8 billion project is simply not feasible in the current economic environment nor in the foreseeable economic future," FCTF said.

(END/2011)


Comments (1)

Hans
Said this on 9-14-2011 At 12:38 am

Once again Atlanta Progressive News raises excellent issues that others are not adequately addressing.

The Atlanta Beltline and the proposed transportation sales tax are intertwined issues that need to be better understood.

There seems to be little dispute that the Beltline would bring enormous benefits to Atlanta.  It would be a very attractive public space that would boost economic development and quality of life generally. But even if most people agree on this, there are numerous legitimate questions that even supporters (like this author) need to consider.

Three contested issues are: 1) should the Beltline even include transit; 2) is the Beltline Inc. operating in a wasteful manner (an issue raised by the Fulton County Taxpayers Foundation/FCTF); and 3) is the Beltline appropriately included in the regional transportation sales tax?

The first issue is one that I call "rails-to-rails".  The Beltline has much to offer, but transit is not obviously among its benefits.  The track winds through low-density neighborhoods that offer little potential for transit usage.  FCTF referenced an expert report that noted (correctly, as far as I can see) that the Beltline is not a good candidate for transit.

So the Beltline may not yield transit benefits.  Indeed, the deployment of transit could actually inflict *harm*.  The Beltline is a promising rails-to-trails project, but the current publicity touts it as a rails-to-rails project, i.e. it will be a railroad rail line converted to a transit rail line.  That hurts its prospects as a bike path.  Installing transit may ruin it as a bike path: the right-of-way is too narrow for both, and transit lines are just plain ugly.  Much as running a bike path along GA 400 is seen as unappealing, running a bike path along a transit line is unappealing.

So people who care about the Beltline should actually oppose transit plans for this site.  Transit is great, but it must be deployed where it will work.  Deploying transit on the Beltline won’t work as transit and will severely diminish the bicycle benefits.

The second issue concerns the management of Beltline Inc.  If the FCTF is right, this project is burning money at an alarming rate.  Even if one supports the Beltline, that does not mean that one supports wasteful spending. The Beltline should rebut the FCTF claims or, if those claims are accurate, the Beltline should seriously reduce its spending.  The assertion that there are seventy two (!) full-time employees is shocking.  Citizens of Atlanta are waiting to hear that this is not true.  Likewise, the assertion that 22 miles of Beltline are going to cost about $22 BILLION is also shocking.  Tell us it isn’t true!  If it is true, then this project that we love may be serving as a big pork barrel trough. The project should be reined in so that it does not waste money.

Anyone who supports the Beltline should be concerned about wasteful project management.  The Fulton County Taxpayers Foundation is to be thanked for shining a light on spending that jeopardizes the success of this project.

The third issue is the most complex:  is the Beltline is an appropriate candidate for support from the regional transportation tax?

Let’s step back a little to consider this.  The Atlanta region has a congestion problem -- but the City of Atlanta does not.  Basically, there is just one congested road in this city: the Interconnector (I-75/85).  The Interconnector allows people who don’t live in the city to work in the city. Those folks bought cheap housing way out of town, with the understanding that they have to drive a long way to work in the city.  Developers made a fortune by locating residential areas far from work areas.  Overall, the Region is characterized by massive sprawl.

Such sprawl is a bargain in the short run (which makes developers very rich), but it is expensive in the longer run (which makers residents of outlying communities poorer.)  Sprawl leads to high transportation costs on commuter roads like the Interconnector, with the result that the money saved by buying an inexpensive house in North Fulton is later offset by the costs of a congested commute into the city.  There is no free lunch, people! Congestion is a price signal: it is telling people that they live expensively, and even if those costs are not communicated by market prices, they are communicated by congestion delays. (Read your Hayek, folks.)

So now we have massive congestion in the sprawling suburbs.  What is the solution? 

Build roads?  No.  Build transit?  Maybe.

The regional sales tax attacks the symptoms but not the cause.  Sure you can fight congestion by investing in transportation infrastructure that helps commuters.  But to really address the issue, you have to reduce sprawl and eliminate the commute.  Don’t help commuters, eliminate the commute.  Stated plainly: move back into the city, folks!  Congestion is a price signal telling you that you have chosen a costly lifestyle.  Don’t fight the price signal; choose a less costly lifestyle.  Live in Atlanta and be free of congestion.  (At rush hour most surface streets in Atlanta have no serious congestion. Only the sprawl-serving freeways and their feeder roads suffer from congestion.)

The regional transportation sales tax is intended to allow people to avoid the painful dismantling of sprawl.  The tax will help them to stay out of Atlanta.

So should Atlanta support such a tax at all?  Probably not.  Congestion is good for Atlanta, because congestion motivates people in suburbs to move into the city to be close to where they work.  Congestion/price signals are telling people to move into Atlanta.

If Atlanta narrowly pursued its self interest, it would simply oppose the regional sales tax. Let the commuters move into the city (where housing is very affordable these days, anyway.)

But Atlanta is a team player in the region.  Atlanta is going along with the regional plan.  That is magnanimous of Mayor Reed.

But if Atlanta is going to support a plan for government welfare for commuters, Atlanta should get some benefit.  What Atlanta needs is money for its Beltline.

True, the Beltline won’t help regional congestion, as North Fulton officials accurately point out.  But it will benefit Atlanta.  If Atlanta is going to pay the sales tax, it needs some benefit.  Without a real congestion problem, Atlanta can at least get funding for its Beltline project. After all, if Atlanta gets nothing and votes down the new tax, then the outlying suburbs will be choked out.

Support for the Beltline makes palatable a regional sales tax that primarily benefits outlying commuters. Although Atlanta might be better served by no sales tax, a sales tax that funds the Beltline is still worth supporting.

That brings us back to the previous two issues. First, the regional transportation sales tax should support the Beltline, but the tax funds should not support transit.  The funds should go to building a first class bike path and park.  As the experts noted, the Beltline is not a good candidate for transit.

Second, the Beltline needs to clean up its financial act.  If it is wasting vast amounts of taxpayer dollars, then the citizens of Atlanta need to rise up against such waste. The Beltline is too important to become a pork barrel crony project.

In summary, the City of Atlanta does not benefit from a reduction of suburban congestion.  Congestion is a price signal telling people to abandon sprawl and to move into the city.  If Atlanta is to support the regional sale tax, Atlanta should derive some benefit.  That benefit is to use the tax money (raised from its own citizens) for the Beltline.  Moreover, that money should not be used for inappropriate transit, it should be used for a bicycle path.  And it should be used efficiently, not to employ seventy people!

If folks outside the city object to the Beltline, then the regional sales tax should simply be voted down. That would allow market forces to work unimpeded, raising the price of suburb living and motivating people to move into the city. That might benefit Atalanta even more than a beautiful Beltline.

hk@hansklein.org

 

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