By Michael Thompson
Think the economy is doing just fine? And that taxpayers are happy trusting government to address problems?
Residents of the Atlanta area have spoken loudly on such issues with this week’s overwhelming rejection of a proposed 1 percent sales tax – a plan that in booming economic times might not even have been noticed.
The proposal was for the sales tax in the 10-county metro Atlanta area to raise some $7.2 billion to pay for 157 transportation projects designed to make it easier to get around.
But all 10 counties rejected the idea, finishing with a margin of 63 percent opposed to the Transportation Investment Act, with only 37 percent in favor.
Barbara Payne, executive director of the Fulton County Taxpayers Foundation, told WND the idea was a “poorly constructed plan put forth by elected officials who weren’t qualified to address the concerns of the entire region.”
One of the projects that would have been funded was the Atlanta Beltline project, which would have impacted only residents of the city of Atlanta. A whopping $602 million, some 8 percent of the total taxes, would have gone to fund it.
The tax was up for a vote in Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry and Rockdale counties.
“We don’t need metro counties paying for people in Atlanta to feel good about themselves by riding the Beltline,” Payne told WND.
“Let this send a message,” Debbie Dooley told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “We the people, you have to earn our trust before asking for more money.”
Dooley is a tea party leader who organized opposition to the tax plan.
WND reported the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) system stood to get some $1.3 billion. But MARTA currently only serves DeKalb and Fulton counties, meaning that nearly $2 billion of the $7.2 billion in tax revenue would have gone to improving the transportation in only two counties.
The Atlanta Journal Constitution broke down the voting by county, showing that the predominantly Republican-leaning metro counties soundly rejected the tax increase: Fayette County 76 percent to 24 percent; Cherokee County 79-21; Douglas 68-32; Cobb 69-31; Rockdale 70-30; Clayton 54-46; Henry 71- 29; Gwinnett 71-29; DeKalb 51-49; and Fulton 51-49.
“I was surprised that it failed in every county, but the fact is the citizens of these 10 metro Atlanta counties aren’t interested in tax increases right now,” Payne said.
The taxpayer dissatisfaction also was reflected in a vote by residents of Brookhaven to follow the lead of Sandy Springs, Dunwood, Johns Creek, Milton and Chattahoochee Hills to incorporate.
According to a report from WSB-TV in Atlanta, residents want more local control of government services and greater efficiency. So Brookhaven residents have voted to join a growing trend in Atlanta-area cities that are breaking free of fiscal mismanagement and elected officials who aren’t accountable to citizens.
WND CEO Joseph Farah wrote a column July 5 praising the city of Sandy Springs, which incorporated in 2005 and has successfully privatized services by outsourcing virtually every government position to contractors.
Brookhaven residents’ decision to demand more government accountability by voting to incorporate is a trend that will only grow across the nation, Dick Williams, host of “The Georgia Gang” political show on WAGA-TV in Atlanta, told WND.
“What they want and what they are getting from their county (DeKalb County) are two different things,” he said. “With public services not working and the roads not being fixed, folks are tired of waiting for counties to do the right thing.”
With the success of Sandy Springs, Johns Creek and Dunwoody, residents of other unincorporated neighborhoods of Fulton and DeKalb County are becoming more cognizant of the problems of non-localized government that isn’t accountable, Williams said.
“It’s been building since the housing problem [of 2008], the economic downturn, and job loss in the area. The more people are not being able to bounce back, the more people become aware that they want to become involved in government to see where their taxes are going.
“The counties cannot govern urban areas. The counties can run courts, libraries, jail, but they can’t deliver services to residents, which is one of the driving forces behind this move to incorporate and outsource government for greater efficiency and accountability,” said Williams.
He added, “I hope this is the wave of the future. I say that because, with five years of experience with five new cities, not one has raised taxes despite the worst [sustained] economic downturn since the Great Depression and each of the new cities operates at a surplus.”
One aspect in the bid to create new, more efficiently run cities has many people taking notice. USA Today leveled a veiled charge of racism against Brookhaven, Sandy Springs, Dunwoody and Johns Creek.
“Cityhood is a contentious issue in metropolitan Atlanta, one rooted in and shaped by politics and race,” the paper said. “Wealthier, largely white communities on the city’s north side, which watched for years as their tax dollars were spent in poorer, mostly minority areas elsewhere in the two counties, had sought for years to break away and incorporate as cities with more local control.”
Williams asserted it’s “not the racial angle that drives it, it’s the delivery of services or the neglect of services that is compelling the citizens of these cities the USA Today attacked to make a move for more localized control of our tax dollars, so that we actually get a return on our investment in the community.”
WND acquired the breakdown of 2012 employment for Fulton County and found that of the 4,851 full time county employees, 3,980 of them are black (82 percent). Fulton County has a population that is only 47 percent black. Of the 916 county employees who are classified as “other than full-time employees,” 787 are black (85 percent).
A quick breakdown of certain departments shows a trend of exclusion in Fulton County public jobs, with 86 percent of the Arts and Culture Department personnel black; 93 percent of 140 people in the Behavioral Health Department black; 81 percent of the 98 people in the County Managers Department black; 90 percent of the 65 people in the Emergency Services black; 89 percent of the 118 in the Finance Department black; of the 353 in the Health and Wellness Department, 306 are black; of the 37 people in the Purchasing Department, 100 percent are black; of the 19 in the Registrations and Elections Department, 100 percent are black; of the 150 employed in the Tax Assessor Department, 84 percent are black; of the 185 employed in the Tax Commissioner Department, 94 percent are black.
“The city of Dunwoody has seven employees, plus 45 police. All the other services are contracted out, whether that be for zoning, finance, development, or purchasing. As opposed to having huge pension problems, the city has the cops on 401k’s,” said Williams.
In 2011, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus filed a lawsuit against the state of Georgia seeking to dissolve the city charters of Dunwoody, Sandy Springs, Johns Creek, Milton and Chattahoochee Hills.
The lawsuit claimed, the paper reported, that the state “circumvented the normal legislative process and set aside its own criteria when creating the ‘super-majority white’ cities within Fulton and DeKalb counties.”
As a result, according to the lawsuit, minority votes in those areas are diluted, violating the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution.
Williams said the “point of these cities moving to incorporate is simply this: Brookhaven doesn’t have a single DeKalb County elected official living within its boundaries. A city council member now in Brookhaven will represent a district of 10,000 people, meaning they’ll probably know their council member.”
“Government should be localized and accountable, and it looks like Sandy Springs, Dunwoody, Johns Creek, and hopefully Brookhaven are providing a way to restore that type of control to cities tired of seeing tax revenue exported to another part of the county. It’s a model that will be replicated nationwide,” said Williams.