Atlanta voters will have the opportunity to vote Feb. 5 on whether to extend a 1 percent sales tax to continue funding the city’s on-going $3.9 billion water and sewer system upgrades.

At its Jan. 7 meeting, Atlanta City Council approved entering into an agreement with Fulton County to conduct a special election referendum on the ballot in conjunction with the Presidential primary. The special tax has been in place since October 2004. Without voter reauthorization, the sales tax would expire in September 2008.

The city’s sales tax is currently 8 cents. If the tax is reauthorized by voters, the sales tax would remain 8 cents. If the sales tax is not extended, city officials say the likely alternative is raising monthly water bills, perhaps as much as 48 percent in some cases.

The 1 percent sales tax is on most goods sold in the city. Council members say the sales tax is also paid by people visiting our city and those who commute to work here each day.

The city has collected about $332 million (including interest) from the tax as of October 2007. About $151 million is projected to be collected in 2008.

In July 1998, Atlanta entered into a federal consent decree committing itself to an accelerated program of activities aimed at improving water quality in metro Atlanta streams and the Chattahoochee and South rivers. The consent decree was amended in May 1999 to add projects that would eliminate water quality violations from sanitary sewer overflows.

“The overall project assures compliance with the federal court order and assures the protection of our precious water resources for generations to come,” said council member Carla Smith, chair of the City Utilities Committee. “This renewal is vital to funding much needed improvements to the city’s aging water and sewer system.”

In 2003, the city council passed a five-year rate package, covering calendar years 2004-2008. The 2008 water/sewer bill for a typical Atlanta household will be $84.60 per month. Without the sales tax, the 2008 bill for a typical Atlanta household would be $118.18 per month or a 43 percent increase, according to the Department of Watershed Management.

Repairing Atlanta’s century-old water and sewer system has been one of Mayor Shirley Franklin’s top priorities since she took office in 2002. From 1990 to 2000, the city paid $23 million in fines to state and federal officials because of sewer problems.

The city expects to complete the water and sewer overhaul by 2013, a year ahead of the consent decree deadline.