Brookhaven Bolt

May 18, 2012

The annual Brookhaven Bolt 5K race to benefit Ashford Park Elementary School is tomorrow, Saturday, May 19. There is still time to register at the Brookhaven location of the Big Peach Running Company through 8:00 p.m. tonight. Please visit brookhavenbolt.com for more details.


Help DeKalb Animals Fundraiser

May 18, 2012

At the request of Commissioner Elaine Boyer, I am passing along the following invitation to help a worthy cause:

Please join the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners for a fundraiser to benefit the animals of DeKalb County.

Hosted by Commissioner Elaine Boyer, Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton & Commissioner Stan Watson
at Stars and Strikes
1741 Mountain Industrial Blvd.
Stone Mountain, GA 30083

Sunday, May 20
5:00 to 7:00 p.m.

Adult Tickets – $30.00 each
Children’s Tickets (12 & under) – $20.00 each
Four Ticket Package (any ages) – $80.00
Ticket includes light refreshments, one hour of bowling, and a game package.

Proceeds will go toward a spay/neuter program for pets of DeKalb residents in need of assistance. The program will be done in partnership with LifeLine Animal Project, Inc.

Visit www.helpdekalbanimals.com for more information or to buy tickets.


MARTA as a State Entity

May 18, 2012

It has practically become an annual rite at MARTA. Officials beat the drum each year while the General Assembly is in session, insisting that the state remove restrictions on the penny sales tax contributed by the taxpayers of Fulton and DeKalb counties for the transit system.

State law requires that 50 percent of sales tax funds for MARTA be used for operations and the other half for capital projects and maintenance. The General Assembly has suspended this requirement, known as the “50-50 split,” through June 2013, when it is currently scheduled to be restored. Recognizing the ongoing downturn in the economy, the Legislature is likely to suspend this requirement another three years, through June 2016, in next year’s legislative session.

However, we should not pretend that the 50-50 split serves no purpose. Its purpose is to prevent MARTA from spending all of its sales tax revenue on personnel and salaries to the exclusion of adequately maintaining its extensive infrastructure.

Critics complain that the Legislature has no business regulating MARTA. After all, these critics remind us, the state does not fund MARTA with any appropriation in the state budget.

But consider this: the City of Atlanta, the Fulton County Commission and the DeKalb County Government also appropriate nothing to MARTA. It is the payers of the sales tax and to a lesser extent, the fare-payers, who keep MARTA afloat.

MARTA is and always has been a state authority, one created by the General Assembly in 1965 to enable voters in up to six jurisdictions – the City of Atlanta, and Fulton, DeKalb, Cobb, Gwinnett and Clayton counties – to decide whether they would like to participate in funding a transit agency and purchasing a bus system already operating in the City of Atlanta. In the end, only the voters in the City of Atlanta and Fulton and DeKalb counties approved joining MARTA.

At the time, allowing the sales tax for MARTA was a big step. Until 1965, the State of Georgia collected sales tax revenue only for state coffers. The General Assembly had not allowed counties or cities to tax themselves for road projects, parks, school improvements or even property tax relief. The state laws that made it possible to levy local SPLOSTs and other local sales taxes like DeKalb County’s Homestead Option Sales Tax (HOST) were enacted sometime thereafter.

MARTA’s very existence was made possible by the General Assembly when it essentially created an exception to then-existing state law to allow a sales tax to be collected in several metro jurisdictions for a localized purpose.

Georgia lawmakers let the creation of MARTA happen only with state oversight. This meant the creation of a state authority with board members that included state officials and the creation of a state legislative oversight committee or MARTOC.

Let’s not kid ourselves that MARTA does not need independent oversight. It is an agency that takes in hundreds of millions of dollars of our tax dollars annually. Yet none of its board members are directly accountable to the taxpayers. They are not elected by the citizens who pay the extra penny to help keep MARTA running.

Having created MARTA, the General Assembly has a duty to serve as a watchdog for the citizens who pay for MARTA. Regardless of what the critics say, this role of the state government will not be marginalized.

At the same time, it is important to periodically revisit and retool the accountability mechanisms such as the 50-50 split that govern MARTA’s fiscal affairs. For this task, a partnership between the state, MARTA and other stakeholders is welcome.


Vote for Montgomery to Win Grant

May 3, 2012

A group of Montgomery Elementary School parents is attempting to win a $50,000 school beautification grant from Rack Room Shoes.

The voting for this grant is conducted online.  Please click here to help Montgomery win the grant.

Apparently you can vote one time each day through May 7.  In this case, I encourage you to vote early and often!


Governor Signs Brookhaven Bill

May 3, 2012

On Monday, April 16, Governor Nathan Deal signed House Bill 636, the Brookhaven city charter, into law.  The bill calls for a July 31 referendum in which you will have a chance to decide whether you want to take control of some of your local government services and the tax dollars that go with them, or whether you would like to continue these services under the DeKalb County Government.  The bill signing ceremony is pictured above.


School Calendar Changes Fall, Chamblee Rises

May 2, 2012

Your summer vacation plans are safe!

The DeKalb County School System (DCSS) recently surveyed parents about possible changes to the school calendar that would have meant an early end to summer break in exchange for more vacation at other times of the year.  Parents gave the changes a “thumbs down,” prompting Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson to announce that no major changes to the school calendar will be implemented in the next school year.

In addition, DCSS recently broke ground on the new building for Chamblee Charter High School.  The groundbreaking ceremony was Monday, April 16.  The new building is expected to be ready at the beginning of 2014.


North Fulton Deserves Seat at MARTA Table

May 2, 2012

The perception of MARTA is that it is a service for those who travel inside Interstate 285. When commuters pierce the Perimeter to the suburbs, MARTA is seen as a service not designed to meet their needs.

Having opened its first rail line more than three decades ago, MARTA today only has four stops outside of I-285, one of which is in Dunwoody in DeKalb County and two of which are in Sandy Springs in North Fulton County.

Metro Atlanta’s suburbs are slowly but surely becoming more receptive to mass transit.  To build suburban support, however, MARTA needs buy-in from local residents and officials in suburban areas of counties that have been paying for MARTA since its inception. In Fulton County, that means garnering support from the cities of North Fulton.

That is why my legislation that nearly passed in this year’s General Assembly, House Bill 1052, would have reshaped the MARTA board of directors by reducing appointments from the Fulton County Commission and replacing them with two members appointed by a consensus of the North Fulton mayors.  This is a path to more sound representation that, in turn, could clear a path for future MARTA expansion.

Right now, the Fulton County Commission has three appointments to the MARTA board:  two from north of the City of Atlanta and one from south of the city.  But North Fulton residents live in cities.  No unincorporated areas remain in North Fulton.

The City of Atlanta has three appointees to the MARTA board.  According to the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC), the City of Atlanta had 391,711 residents in 2011. Meanwhile, the populations of the North Fulton cities combined were almost as much as the City of Atlanta last year: Alpharetta, 57,551; Johns Creek, 76,728; Milton, 32,661; Mountain Park, 526; Roswell, 88,346; and Sandy Springs, 93,853.  That’s 349,665 residents in the North Fulton cities.

My proposal to reshape the MARTA board also applies to DeKalb County as the DeKalb County Commission would reduce its appointments from four to three, with a fourth DeKalb appointee being chosen by a consensus of the mayors of DeKalb cities, including the cities of Chamblee, Dunwoody, and perhaps a future Brookhaven.

The residents of these cities – who pay the one percent sales tax on every purchase to fund MARTA bus and rail – deserve a voice in MARTA’s future that reflects how they have chosen to be governed at the local level, by their local cities rather than a county government.

While this legislation suffered an eleventh-hour defeat in the House of Representatives, falling just four votes shy of the 91 votes needed for passage, it will return in 2013.  It is important for the long-term improvement of MARTA.

Giving representation on the MARTA board to those communities who help fund a significant portion of MARTA’s sales tax revenue is another step in bringing government closer to the people.  Moreover, it will give them a vested interest in the future of mass transit.

This is necessary if we ever wish to a build a truly regional mass transit system, one that extends into North Fulton and other areas OTP.  If we want MARTA to extend beyond its three rail stations in Sandy Springs and Dunwoody, citizens in communities beyond those three stops will need a seat at the table and a real voice in making transit decisions.


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