Atlanta’s special transportation tax may be producing less money than expected and is under review by the city Auditor’s Office, according to City Councilmember Howard Shook and the Buckhead Community Improvement District, who are raising the alarm that some projects could lose funding.
The Buckhead CID is concerned some planned projects expected to be funded with the transportation special local option tax, or TSPLOST, dollars could be cut if the audits shows numbers lower than expected.
“My apprehension level is starting to go through the roof,” said Shook at the CID board’s Sept. 26 meeting. “I think if everything was going to turn out to be fine, those signals would have been sent out a long time ago.”
“It’s not as ironclad as we were expecting and as it has been in the past,” said CID Executive Director Jim Durrett.
Shook, who represents Buckhead’s District 7 and sits on the CID board, said that he expects the numbers to come back lower than projected.
While Shook said he has received little solid information on what the returns are, he is concerned it could ultimately be “significantly less” than expected.
Millions of dollars for CID projects are tied to TSPLOST funds, including $5 million for PATH400, the multi-use path being built along Ga. 400. If the projects are cut from the funding list, the CID would have to also cut the project or find a new source. The TSPLOST funds are also used to leverage federal dollars, which could disappear otherwise.
CID projects on the list include the Wieuca Road/Phipps Boulevard roundabout and Piedmont Road widening.
The independent city auditor’s office is conducting two audits on the program funds. Reports are expected to be released sometime in October, Shook said.
City Auditor Amanda Noble confirmed that her office is conducting the audits, but did not provide any other information. The mayor’s office did not have immediate comment.
He said there has been less money available for some projects than has publicly been promised.
“There’s not a lot of concrete information flowing out of the people who manage it right now,” Shook said. “This is a growing an area of concern for a lot of people.”
Tom Weyandt, who is serving as the interim manager for the Renew Atlanta Bond program and the TSPLOST funds, called for an internal review when he took the post, Shook said. The other review was called for by a City Council resolution that was cosponsored by Shook.
The auditor cannot discuss any finding prematurely, but Shook said he is disappointed the final reports have taken as long as they have. The council was resolution was passed in March.
The TSPLOST was passed by voters in 2016 and is expected to bring in $300 million over five years. Shook said in a December 2017 article that previous city Chief Financial Officer Jim Beard reported that the TSPLOST was meeting projections.
The MARTA expansion was approved at the same time, but is a separate tax and questions about its funding were not raised.
Fulton County has had funding problems with its separate TSPLOST, which could be by faulty projections, businesses failing to charge the new tax or lower consumer spending.
If the returns are less than expected, the City Council would have to decide what projects to cut from the TSPLOST funding list, Shook said.
“We will monitor the situation and adapt as clarity emerges,” Durrett said.