By John S. Sherman
The proposed $1 billion funding for the Peachtree Streetcar Corridor Project is unfair to Atlanta taxpayers.
This project creates a Special Tax District for the property owners on Peachtree and those property owners within a quarter mile of either side of Peachtree, significantly increasing taxes—without the consent of the taxed—by 3-4 mills or 7%-9% of the current total property tax.
If this becomes law, the owner of a $500,000 Peachtree condominium currently paying approximately $8,000 in property taxes, will face an increase of $560-$720 annually for 25-years – without their consent. In addition to this Special Tax District that will generate $450 million, the City is planning City Bonds and General Fund tax increases totaling $150 million, still another Tax Allocation District to raise $50 million, and Federal and State assistance of $295 million. With private donations estimated at $50 million, this is projected to be the funding for the $1 billion Peachtree Streetcar Corridor Project.
How taxpayers view project
Almost every Atlanta taxpayer supports parks and plazas along Peachtree and other major city roads, improved lighting, wider sidewalks, bicycle paths, etc. at competitive cost paid by the city. However, most taxpayers are opposed to taxing a segment of the city for a project that benefits the entire city. The Peachtree Streetcars are proposed to extend from Buckhead in the north, going 14 miles south to Fort McPherson, with a spur on Auburn Avenue and a 2.4 mile Downtown Loop. These streetcars, if approved, will run every 10 minutes, driving up the cost of the Project, with little anticipated benefits for the taxpayers asked to foot the tab.
Here are comments of community leaders:
• “As currently proposed, the project would be funded in large part with a new tax on property owners in the Peachtree corridor – a concept that could meet opposition” said Mike Dobbins, Atlanta’s former planning commissioner and currently a professor at Georgia Tech, in a recent article. “Though the streetcars would share pavement with cars, they still might snare traffic – and wouldn’t be able to maneuver over the pothole-covering plates that are ubiquitous on Peachtree. What’s more, the Mayor’s Task Force is heavily stacked with powerful business types who could stand to profit from the project. One example, Tom Bell, CEO of the mega-development firm Cousins Properties that employs City Council President Lisa Borders and has major projects on Peachtree. There’s membership of the business community that has direct personal interest in the property along the way.”
• According to former Mayor Sam Massell, “Some people are concerned about the cost factor, while others are concerned about the streetcars’ overhead wiring and its ability to travel around special events like parades.”
• One prominent Mid-town resident who wishes to remain anonymous: “Residents of condominiums and single family homes within ¼ mile of Peachtree with whom I have spoken do not think the project provides sufficient benefits to them to warrant the proposed additional taxes. MARTA stations are located every half mile in Mid-town, so to the residents, the project seems redundant.”
• John Schaffner, Editor, Buckhead Reporter, states in his most recent editorial, “Do we really think we are going to get people to leave their cars at home because we now will have a streetcar going up and down Peachtree?”
• Michael Meyer, Director of Georgia Transportation Institute, Georgia Tech, “There clearly will be traffic disruption. You don’t put something like this in place and then assume there won’t be problems with the traffic.”
• State Senator Sam Zamarripa, an advisor to Atlanta Streetcar, Inc.: “Once you put a streetcar down Peachtree, you’re going to see it become even denser than it is. Atlanta will look more like Shanghai than Dallas.”
A referendum is fair
Property owners in the proposed Special Tax District should have the opportunity to participate in a referendum to decide whether the benefits from the Project are sufficient to warrant such an increase in their taxes. Although the streetcars will extend from the Georgia Dome through Auburn Avenue the taxpayers within a quarter mile of Peachtree will subsidize the developments on Auburn Avenue through the Auburn Spur and the Downtown Loop. How do the taxpayers feel about the streetcars replacing the buses? Only a referendum will tell.
Mayor Franklin brought together a group of business leaders to form the Peachtree Corridor Task Force. Many of these business leaders are from firms with vested interest in the project. The Task Force released its final report on March 26th summarized by the AJC: “A $1 billion overhaul for Peachtree that includes a 14-mile streetcar line from Buckhead to Fort McPherson and a 2.4 mile Downtown Loop to connect many of the city’s top tourist attractions. Along the way, sidewalks would be widened, landscaped medians built, improved lighting and street furniture installed. The streetcars – powered by overhead electric cables – would run every 10 minutes.”
Streetcar vs. Bus
The advocates of the streetcars indicate that they will run along Peachtree powered by overhead electric cables. Presently, MARTA buses now run along Peachtree every 20 minutes during peak hours, with the recent addition of the Peach Bus, which runs directly from Buckhead to downtown, without the need to change at the Arts Center MARTA station. To my knowledge, there has never been a professional feasibility study of the bus ridership on the Peachtree route. However, living on Peachtree Road and walking my dog at peak hours in the morning and evening, I can attest to the fact that the buses are never filled, southbound or northbound, often with only a few riders on a bus.
John Sherman is president of the Fulton County Taxpayers Foundation, Inc., a non-profit advocate of lower taxes in Atlanta and Fulton County.