MARTA sales taxes & Alpharetta property taxes

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.

 

Alpharetta City Council Meeting Agenda February 1, 2016

Below is the agenda for Monday night’s Alpharetta City Council meeting along with highlighted links to many of the supporting materials. Please feel free to leave questions and comments about agenda items in the comment section and I will do my best to respond in a timely manner.

I. CALL TO ORDER
II. ROLL CALL
III. PLEDGE TO THE FLAG
IV. CONSENT AGENDA
A. Council Meeting Minutes (Meeting of 01/19/2016)
B. Council Meeting Minutes (Meeting of 01/25/16)
C. Financial Management Report for the month ending December 31, 2015.
V. PROJECT UPDATES
A. Convention Center
B. City Center – Public Development
C. City Center – Private Development
VI. BOND DISCUSSION
A. Discussion of Potential Recreation and Parks Bond Projects
VII. PUBLIC HEARING
A. CLUP-15-14/Z-15-15 Oak Hall Companies/Webb Bridge Road
B. MP-15-06/V-15-12 Marriott Courtyard/Pkwy 400 Pod C
VIII. OLD BUSINESS
A. PH-15-24 Sign Ordinance And Text Amendments
Second Reading
IX. NEW BUSINESS
A. Discussion of Financial Audit Reports
B. Fire Engine Acquisitions (Replacement Of Fire Engines #4 And #6)
C. FY2016 Cured-in-Place Pipe (CIPP) Lining Project
D. Update To Personnel Policies: Bereavement Leave
X. PUBLIC COMMENT
XI. WORKSHOP
A. UPDATE: MARTA Route And Fare Changes
XII. REPORTS
XIII. ADJOURNMENT

Senator Beach Proposes 50% MARTA Tax Hike

Every man, woman and child in Fulton county has to pay a 7% sales tax which means a hundred dollar pair of shoes really costs them $107. Of that $7 tax one dollar goes to subsidize MARTA. It may not sound like much but over the course of a year it adds up to about $265 million dollars.

Now two hundred and sixty five million dollars is a lot of money no matter how you look at it but in a county with a million residents it might be justified if the taxes were going to something everyone uses, needs or wants. Unfortunately in a county plagued by congestion only a tiny percentage of Fulton County residents use MARTA trains during rush hour.  The census charts below demonstrate only 2% of the county’s population ride MARTA trains to work.

Fulton commute chartFulton commute stats

More people work from home or even walk to work than ride MARTA trains but we pay hundreds of millions of dollars to subsidize the trains. It is a perfect example of why Fulton County already has transportation issues. Politicians allocate transportation money based on politics rather than sound fiscal policy.

Which brings us  to this news story from 11 Alive News about Alpharetta’s own State Senator Brandon Beach who is proposing a 50% MARTA sales tax hike to expand trains into North Fulton. While I couldn’t disagree more with Senator Beach on this issue I do appreciate his consistency. He was pushing for heavy rail in his dual role as CEO of the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce and President of the North Fulton CID long before he was elected to the state legislature.

But there is absolutely no objective justification for a massive tax increase to expand the least used, least efficient, least flexible and most expensive transit option available in Fulton County. Over the past few decades billions of dollars have been spent to subsidize a rail system which serves a tiny  portion of our population while the roads that support 100% of residents have been sorely neglected. Any further diversion of transportation money to MARTA trains will only make the problem worse.

A transportation tax increase of hundreds of millions of dollars on Alpharetta residents dedicated to trains that would make traffic here worse would be unconscionable so as an elected representative for 63,000 residents I will not support this effort. Instead I will vigorously oppose any legislation which would permit a 50% MARTA tax increase and encourage my fellow elected officials in Fulton County to do the same.

 

North Fulton Transportation Funding 2016

The year 2016 promises to be a defining one for the City of Alpharetta and our neighbors in North Fulton County. In Alpharetta we expect to see construction begin on the land in front of City Hall as well as hundreds of homes and townhomes in the surrounding area. Construction of the second phase in Avalon has begun and we expect to see a new convention center take shape along with the hotel, stores, restaurants and apartments also planned on the site.

Around North Fulton our neighbors are also expecting great things. Sandy Springs has begun construction of its own town center and is welcoming the North American Headquarters for Mercedes to town. Roswell is working hard to reinvigorate their beautiful historic areas with new growth while the relative newbies of Johns Creek and Milton are in various stages of creating their own visions of their future.

These are exciting times to live and do business in North Fulton. We are blessed.

And as all of these great things are going on there is an underlying discussion taking place that will affect us all. How will we work as a region to build and maintain the roads and infrastructure needed to accommodate this growth and development?

For the past two decades North Fulton has experienced tremendous growth but the network of roads and infrastructure have not grown accordingly. Anyone who has driven in other metropolitan areas knows that traffic in North Fulton is not as bad as most other comparable cities but it is still an important issue.

That is why the Georgia state legislature passed House Bill 170 last year which raised taxes to fund infrastructure projects at the state level. The bill was heavily publicized after its passage but many people in North Fulton County still don’t know about a seldom discussed feature of the legislation.

HB 170 allows Fulton County to hold a county wide referendum to authorize an additional 1% sales tax increase for funding local transportation projects. There has been media coverage about this lately but many people still don’t realize how this discussion will impact our region for decades to come.

Current projections show that a 1% sales tax increase for 5 years could raise more than $83 million to be used for transportation projects in the city of Alpharetta alone. The total amount projected for all of North Fulton would be more than $500 million. That would approximately double the amount cities currently have to address transportation projects and could make a huge dent in the backlog of projects which have accumulated as fast growing cities struggled to keep up.

But will residents vote for a large tax increase if it’s for transportation? Would the money go to fund road improvements or will some of it go to pay even more than the current 1% MARTA sales tax subsidy? Would the tax increase be limited to 5 years as proposed in the legislation? Or will the county and cities agree to extend the tax for 40 years to allow bonds for expanding MARTA?

These are all questions that have yet to be answered. However if the referendum is going to be placed on the November ballot these questions and many others will have to be answered soon. And those answers will go a long way in determining what the City of Alpharetta and North Fulton County look like for the next 10, 20, even 50 years.

So over the next few months I intend to explore many of the questions posed by the proposed Tsplost tax increase proposal. Hopefully this will be a constructive forum for us to discuss what promises to be the most important issue of 2016, North Fulton Transportation funding.

 

 

 

 

Millennials Move to Suburbs – “Cities are just a temporary place to land”

Quality-of-Life-Sioux-Falls-SD-500x332

Found an interesting link on Twitter today thanks to Jon Ray. ( aka @BKEGa1 ) The post was an exploration of why members of the Millennial generation are following previous generations into the suburbs as they get ready to settle down.

The article was written by Emily McMackin and posted on businessclimate.com. You should read the whole thing here but below are a couple of key passages:

Between 2010 and 2013, the number of 20- to 29-year-olds in the U.S. rose by 4 percent, but the percentage of residents in this demographic living in core cities grew by only 3.2 percent, the study noted. Why are cities losing 20-somethings, while suburbs and smaller towns are gaining them?

***************

They see the suburbs as an ideal place to settle down, and tend to view the urban core of cities as just a temporary place to land. Much of their reasoning stems from the desire to own their own homes or start families of their own – and wanting more space to do that.

This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who realizes that big cities are less than ideal for raising a family. Yet many people in the development community continue to propagate the silly notion that Millennials are going to forego the superior public schools, more affordable single family homes and lower crime rates of the suburbs when they get ready to settle down.

Right now Alpharetta is blessed to be one of the greatest places in the state of Georgia to do business and raise a family. As long as we continue to grow and change in a manner consistent with those qualities the Millennial generation and their successors will continue to move here when they are ready to settle down. Our quality of life and property values will continue to improve accordingly.

However there is tremendous pressure from some in the business community and political arena to change Alpharetta into the next Midtown, Buckhead or Sandy Springs. They speak tirelessly of the impending doom suburbs will face if they don’t attract Millennials who are still at a stage in life when they are more interested in bar hopping than house shopping.

But the reality is that if Alpharetta becomes just another concrete jungle at the end of a MARTA line it will force Millennials to move even further from the city of Atlanta when they want to escape the high cost of living, miserable schools and crime that plague urban centers. The irony is that the urbanization of places like Alpharetta actually forces people to spread further out creating more of the sprawl so many urbanists loathe.

The $100 Emission Inspection Challenge

Every year around their birthday car owners in metro Atlanta are required to have their automobile emissions inspected before they can renew their car tag. This is required by the federal government purportedly to reduce pollution in Atlanta and the last time I checked the annual cost to taxpayers was between $80 million and $100 million.

Five years ago on my birthday I was so annoyed at having to spend $25 to have an emission inspected that I decided to find out if there was any evidence the millions of dollars we pay for the inspections make any difference.

I started with Google but there was no evidence on the internet. Nothing at all on the world wide web to scientifically prove metro Georgia’s emissions inspection program reduces pollution by even .000000000000000000001%. But the federal government couldn’t possibly make people waste so much money for no reason, could it?

Next I called the office of State Senator Dan Moody who represented me at the time. His staff was very nice and helpful but they knew of no such evidence themselves and referred me to a person in the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

The lady at the Department of Natural Resources was also very friendly and helpful but did not have the evidence I needed either. However she did refer me to a report issued by researchers at Georgia Tech which was supposed to support the tens of millions of dollars spent on inspections.

Unfortunately the report only showed that pollution levels around Atlanta were lower than they used to be. There was no evidence at all that emissions inspections had any impact nor any quantifiable result for what hundreds of millions of dollars had accomplished. You can read an article about the report here: http://gtresearchnews.gatech.edu/newsrelease/vehicle_emissions.htm

But despite the lack of supporting evidence I didn’t want to believe the federal government was forcing Georgians to spend up to $100 million a year for no reason so I wrote to Michael O. Rodgers, Ph.D. the Principal Research Scientist and Adjunct Professor School of Civil and Environmental Engineering Georgia Institute of Technology who directed the research:

Mr. Rodgers,

I am currently doing research on the effectiveness of Georgia’s emission inspection program and came across an article which sites your research. Here is the link to the article: http://gtresearchnews.gatech.edu/newsrelease/vehicle_emissions.htm

The article explains how your research found lower emissions in Georgia but it doesn’t really explain how a cause and effect relationship was established between the emission levels and the inspection program. Is the underlying research publicly available so I can better understand how you determined the specific contribution of the emissions inspection program.

Thank you in advance for any help you can give me in proving the effectiveness of Georgia’s emission inspection process.

Jimmy Gilvin

Dr. Rodgers responded to my request and for several weeks promised to have an assistant send the evidence I requested. We even spoke on the phone, He seemed very nice but for several weeks Dr. Rodgers would assure me the information was forthcoming yet it never showed up.

I continued to follow up on the missing report until Dr. Rodgers stopped returning my calls and I realized what I now believe to be the truth: There is absolutely no scientific evidence to show hundreds of millions of dollars in Georgia emission inspection fees have reduced pollution one bit.

So here is the $100 Emission Inspection Challenge: The first person who can demonstrate there is scientifically valid evidence that the tens of millions of dollars spent on emissions inspections have reduced pollution in the metro Atlanta area by more than .000000000000000000001% will get $100.

When a person starts with the premise that annoying federal mandates are ridiculous and based on political agendas rather than facts you will rarely be wrong. Prove me wrong in this case and I will gladly fork over the cash just to know that the federal government hasn’t really wasted more than a billion dollars of our money on a charade.

Alpharetta, from “Solid Gold” to “Bunch of Old White Guys” in 30 seconds

Recently I attended the “North Fulton Opportunity Outlook” event held in the city of Alpharetta. The forum was hosted by the Council for Quality Growth, a not-for-profit trade association comprised of developers, contractors, engineers, architects, planners, law firms and bankers–anyone with an interest in growth and development.

The event was promoted as an economic development forum to provide an update on development opportunities in North Fulton county. It was co-hosted by the Progress Partners initiative which is partially funded with Alpharetta taxpayer money so I attended in support of the effort.

It was expected it to be an upbeat, informative discussion about the many exciting opportunities in our region. For the most part that was the case. Nearly all of the participants were professional and positive as they discussed the unique quality of life, business climate and cooperative local governments that attracted their businesses and continue to help them thrive.

The lone exception was Mark Toro, managing partner for North American Properties, who chose to insert racially charged comments about the people of North Fulton into his own personal diatribes. It was disturbing to hear someone who has benefited so much from the support of this community use the occasion to insult the people who live here.

Mr. Toro introduced himself by saying,” I am the self appointed president of the Keith Parker (MARTA CEO) fan club, frequent MARTA rider… advocate… messiah” and spent most of his time pleading for billions of dollars in higher taxes that could bring MARTA trains to Avalon’s doorstep. While Mr. Toro’s introductory spiel was conspicuously self serving in a forum designed to be about investing in North Fulton it was the way he framed the remainder of his comments that was most disturbing.

In response to a question about why companies should invest in Alpharetta Mr. Toro spoke of our excellent demographics and said, “this is a solid gold community, strong… financially strong, stable and forward thinking”. He even added that collaboration with the city of Alpharetta had been “phenomenal”.

Yet just seconds after saying Alpharetta was “solid gold” Mr. Toro turned around and used racially charged comments to explain resistance to his eight billion dollar tax increase. Speaking about MARTA expansion once again he said, “I’ve heard it said. You’ve all heard it said. Some of us have even said it ourselves. The train goes both ways and we don’t want those people out here.”

This was a public forum where developers, investors, elected officials and economic development professionals had been invited to hear about opportunities for investing in this community. For Mr. Toro to falsely insinuate that opposition to his tax increase and his “urban-burb” vision of their city’s future is caused by racism was disgusting and inappropriate. But he didn’t even stop there.

Mr. Toro went on to attack the community leaders he had just praised in his comments moments earlier. “And the fact that the leadership of this community is all a bunch of old white guys like me is a problem!“, he continued.

Bunch of old white guys. So in a matter of seconds this community went from “solid gold”, “forward thinking” and “collaborative” to a place where “we don’t want those people out here” led by “a bunch of old white guys” who are the “problem”.

How could that be? What could have possibly changed Alpharetta from “solid gold” in one breath to “a bunch of old white guys” in the next? Actually the only thing that changed was that in one breath Mr. Toro spoke about everything this community has done to make his investment successful and in the next he lashed out at those very same people because they don’t embrace Mr. Toro’s self serving goal of turning Alpharetta into an urban mass transit hub.

Over the last four years the people and leadership of North Fulton county have bent over backwards to support Mr. Toro and the investment North American Properties has made here. Alpharetta revised municipal codes and gave them competitive advantages over every other commercial property owner in town. The city hired new staff and paid thousands of dollars in overtime to facilitate their extremely aggressive construction schedule.

When North American went to the Fulton County Development authority for a tax abatement that cost Alpharetta taxpayers millions of dollars without even letting us know we absorbed that loss. When North American failed to live up to their promise to build hotels in the second phase of Avalon it was the City of Alpharetta who committed $42 million of taxpayer money to support a convention center and hotel within their development .

Yet despite everything the people of North Fulton have done for Mr. Toro it hasn’t been enough. Mr. Toro still seized the opportunity to insult his hosts in front of a large group of investors, economic development professionals and elected officials who were invited to hear about opportunities here. How disappointing.

But the good news is that Mr. Toro’s comments at the North Fulton Opportunity Outlook were informative. They told the people of North Fulton everything we needed to know about the kind of man he is.

Editor’s note:

Despite Mr. Toro’s comments North Fulton remains a diverse community. People from all over the world call Alpharetta home because of our unique blend of incredible business environment combined with an exceptional quality of life and great schools.

Statistically Alpharetta is every bit as racially diverse as the Atlantic Station development Mr. Toro recently sold in downtown Atlanta and even more diverse than that of Decatur, GA. The supporting census data is available online at citydata.com

MARTA gets money to promote high density development

050519 - ATLANTA, GA -- MARTA maintenance crews work on clearance testing trains at the new MARTA Armour Rd. maintenance yard. (BILLY SMITH II/AJC staff)

050519 – ATLANTA, GA — MARTA maintenance crews work on clearance testing trains at the new MARTA Armour Rd. maintenance yard. (BILLY SMITH II/AJC staff)

Todays AJC contains an article explaining that the Federal Transit Administration is giving MARTA money to foster high density developments which will make traffic worse and justify the expansion of routes not dense enough for heavy rail yet. Click on the picture above to read the whole thing. Below are two excerpts:

MARTA and the Atlanta Beltline have been chosen to receive federal grants to help spur denser development around future transit lines, the Federal Transit Administration announced Tuesday.

MARTA was awarded $1.6 million, while the Beltline received $500,000 as part of a pilot program of the FTA. The money cannot be used to build future transit lines or buy the rail cars or streetcars that would run on them.

*******************

It must be used to plan and promote future development of businesses and homes along proposed transit lines – the kind of development that will attract built-in customers for those transit lines one day. (Think high-rise office buildings, condos and apartment towers.)

Such “transit-oriented development” or “transit supportive development” is helpful in obtaining future FTA grants, because it demonstrates that the new trains or streetcars would be able to draw riders, said Janide Sidifall, a senior project manager for MARTA.

While the money is designated for MARTA’s I-20 corridor the article specifically mentions Alpharetta as a possible alternative for expansion.

Alpharetta Planning Commission faces urbanization in Milton High School District… again

Tonight the Alpharetta Planning Commission will review an application for another high density mixed use project with more than 400 apartments in the Milton High School District. It seems like just yesterday I was standing in front of the Alpharetta City Council explaining this would happen if they approved the original application.

But that was way back in 2011 when city council members supported the Comprehensive Plan’s goal of a 85% to %15 ratio of single family homes to apartments and told me there was no effort to bring heavy rail MARTA to this city. Recently a resident who remembers those discussions asked me to repost an article I wrote as a concerned resident and local blogger. So in light of this historic occasion I give you this golden oldie from distant past of February, 2011:

Why would Alpharetta trade 1800 jobs for 500 condos? MARTA

Below is a letter submitted by MetLife to justify the Peridot project proposed for Alpharetta. The new project would remove more than 1800 potential jobs from the site in return for building 500 condominiums. Why would the Alpharetta City Council do that? I will let Mr. Ikwut-Ukwa of MARTA’s planning office explain:

“MARTA is also working with the City of Alpharetta to initiate an LCI for the North Point Mall area as part of a proposed north line rail extension. In the past the City of Alpharetta had also inquired from MARTA on the feasibility of having the proposed rail station at a location across SR 400 from the Mall in the vicinity of the development site. MARTA has not yet made a firm decision on the station location but believes this development will add to the density in the area, making for a better transit supportive environment.”

For at least five years the City of Alpharetta has been working with MARTA to increase the density of our city so they can justify bringing trains here. Funny, I don’t remember Alpharetta voters being asked about that. It must have happened at a charade charrette.

IF an Alpharetta mayoral or city council candidate comes knocking on your door this summer to ask for your vote don’t forget to tell them how you feel about the urbanization of Alpharetta to lure MARTA. Obviously they think it is a good idea. They just don’t want you to know.

Alpharetta City Council Agenda September 16, 2013

City Council did not meet this week but the agenda for next week has been published and it is posted below for your review. I have not had an opportunity to read all the supporting materials yet but if you have questions please let me know in the comment section and I will do my best to get you an answer.

Two items that stand out as being particularly important for the future of Alpharetta are the presentation by MARTA during the workshop and the discussion of private development opportunities within the City Center project. I hope you can join us for those discussions.

Update 9/16/2013 9:30 a.m. Please note that the agenda for tonight’s meeting was updated late Friday to include an additional New Business item. Unforeseen changes to the LOST agreement require Alpharetta City Council to revisit changes to the original agreement previously approved. The change was publicly announced Friday but I am just now getting it updated here.

City of Alpharetta

Council Meeting for September 16, 2013

City Hall Council Chambers

7:30 PM

  1. I.              CALL TO ORDER
  2. II.            ROLL CALL
  3. III.           PLEDGE TO THE FLAG
  4. IV.           PROCLAMATION
    1.     Constitution Week
  5. V.            CONSENT AGENDA
    1.     Public Hearing and Council Meeting Minutes
      1. Meeting of 08/26/2013
      2. Meeting of 09/03/2013
    2.     Monthly Financial Management Report
      1. Month Ending 08/31/2013
  6. VI.           WORKSHOP
    1.     City Center Update
    2.     MARTA Briefing on Connect 400 Transit Initiative
  7. VII.         NEW BUSINESS
    1.     Administration
      1. Resolution: Local Option Sales Tax Distribution
    2.     Grants Administration
      1. Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Letter of Interest
    3.     Community Development
      1. Discussion of RFQ: City Center Private Development Opportunity
    4.     Public Safety
      1. Public Safety Ammunition Purchase
      2. Crime-Free Multi-Family Housing Initiative
    5.     Recreation and Parks
      1. Purchase of Two (2) Pickup Trucks for Recreation and Parks
      2. Purchase of Various Pieces of Equipment for Parks
    6.     Information Technology
      1. CISCO SmartNet Data Equipment Maintenance 2014
      2. CISCO SmartNet Voice Equipment Maintenance 2014
  8. VIII.        PUBLIC COMMENTS
  9. IX.           REPORTS
  10. X.            ADJOURN TO EXECUTIVE SESSION

City of Alpharetta

Executive Session Agenda for September 16, 2013

City Hall Council Chambers

Immediately Following Council Meeting

  1. I.              PERSONNEL
  2. II.            REAL ESTATE
  3. III.           ADJOURNMENT