The beginning of March marked a momentous voting occasion for Atalanta voters — whether or not to keep paying a 1% sales tax to fund the city’s sewer overhaul.
The alternative is to see the already unusually high water rates rise.
The city’s antiquated water system was slated to be repaired and rebuilt in the 1990s after the Cattahoochee Riverkeeper filed suit. Then, in 2004, voter approved the Municipal Options Sales Tax (MOST), to help pay for the improvements.
The tax has been renewed by voter three times since its inception and has generated about $1 billion, making up 20% of the Department of Watershed Management’s annual budget.
This year is the last year that the tax can be renewed without previous authorization by the Atlanta City Council.
Cash generated by the MOST revenues has so far helped to reduce sewer spills and overflows caused by rain, said DWM Commissioner Jo Ann Macrina. It has also funded projects like the Historic Fourth Ward Park, and the Nancy Creek and South River tunnels.
As a result of the infrastructure program, the Chattahoochee River is running through the city cleaner than it has been for a long time, said Jason Ulseth, the current Chattahoochee Riverkeeper.
If voters approve the tax this time, Macrina says that up to 10% of the money will go towards storm water improvements, like the one in Fourth Ward Park, or projects installed in Peoplestown, Summerhill, and Mechanicsville to address regular flooding concerns.
Proper maintenance of any system, whether it be home, school, or city, is essential to proper functioning and lower costs. For example, home HVAC systems can last between 12 and 15 years if properly maintained. The Atlanta sewer system, much of it decades old, needs constant upkeep and improvements.
Sales taxes like this one are intended to spread the burden among those who shop in the city, and not just Atlanta’s 460,000 residents. Lillian Govus, a spokesperson from the DWM said that some 1.2 million people enter the city daily.
Govus spoke of the urgency with which Atlanta’s sewer system needs assistance. “Breaks are happening every day,” she said. “The people’s public health is affected.”