Sales taxes can be useful but they can also be an insidious method of taxation because it is so difficult for individuals to recognize the full cost. As discussed in this previous post the current MARTA tax in Fulton County amounts to $265 million a year and since there are about a million residents in Fulton it works out to a tax of about $265 per every man, woman and child.
If every person who lives in Fulton County was forced to write a check for their MARTA subsidy the 98% of people who rarely ride transit would be outraged. Even many of the 2% who actually ride heavy rail to work would complain about the $265 bill.
Imagine if a mother and father living in Alpharetta with two young children opened their mailbox to find a bill for their family’s $1060 share of the MARTA subsidy. But that would never happen because if it did heads down at the Gold Dome would roll faster than Richard Petty at Daytona.
But if diapers cost thirty cents more, each trip to the grocery store costs $2 more, the new refrigerator costs an extra $20 and 1% of everything else a family buys all year long adds up to $1060 they will probably never notice. It’s just a penny, right? That way MARTA gets $265 million a year and politicians get to keep their heads.
But when it comes to local property taxes people do get a bill in the mail each year. So for comparison’s sake let’s take a look at the size of Fulton County’s current 1% MARTA sales tax compared to the property taxes paid by the people of Alpharetta.
The 2016 budget for Alpharetta estimates property tax revenues of $18.8 million. With a population of 63,000 that works out to about $298 a year for every man, woman and child living in the city. The current MARTA sales tax costs about $265 per person in Fulton County. That means the property taxes in Alpharetta are only about $33 more than the cost of MARTA taxes to our average resident.
But if State Senator Brandon Beach’s 50% MARTA tax increase is enacted the cost per Fulton resident would skyrocket to almost $400 per person or $1600 for a family of four. Which means the average cost of MARTA taxes per Alpharetta resident would be $100 more a year than their property taxes.
Property taxes pay the salaries of the men and women in police cars and fire stations who work around the clock, 365 days a year to keep families, homes and businesses safe. Property taxes keep Alpharetta roads paved and traffic signals working. Local property taxes pay for nationally recognized recreation programs and parks that include an 8 mile Greenway lying along the shady banks of Big Creek.
Municipal property taxes pay a major portion of everything it takes to make Alpharetta one of the greatest places in the world to raise a family and do business. Yet if Senator Beach’s sales tax hike is enacted the average share of property taxes per resident would cost $100 less than what is collected to pay for MARTA services that only one person out of hundred people even use.
Put another way, if a $400 per person MARTA tax was distributed to the cities of Fulton County every year to cover essential services like police, fire departments and roads the City of Alpharetta could completely eliminate property taxes and have $6 million left over for transportation improvements. Now that would be a boon for economic development in North Fulton that MARTA could never provide.