The Atlanta City Council is seeking an audit of MARTA’s Atlanta expansion program. (AJC file photo by Jason Getz / [email protected])
By David Wickert
MARTA blasts council, says audit would delay projects
The Atlanta City Council wants to audit MARTA as the agency reshuffles its transit expansion plans in the city.
On Monday the council unanimously approved a resolution that calls for an independent audit of “all revenues and expenditures” of the $2.7 billion More MARTA program — a 40-year expansion plan that Atlanta voters approved in 2016. The audit would determine whether MARTA has properly spent the proceeds from the half-penny sales tax voters approved as part of the plan.
At a press conference Tuesday, Councilman Amir Farokhi said council members have been asking MARTA for information about More MARTA spending for six months. They’re frustrated by the agency’s response.
“We have received partial — but not full — insight into More MARTA expenditures,” Farokhi said. “We have received changing stories on plan projects and timelines. There’s been a lack of clarity on how much of the half-penny sales tax has been spent on bus service versus new capital projects.”
In a written response, MARTA blasted the audit proposal as “disappointing and disingenuous.” The agency accused the council of “playing politics by demanding a full performance review of decisions made by previous MARTA and City of Atlanta leaders.”
MARTA said an audit would require it to pause work on all Atlanta expansion projects except the Summerhill bus rapid transit line and the renovation of Five Points station.
The confrontation over the audit escalates a feud between MARTA and the City Council that has been brewing for months.
The council has been grilling MARTA on the status of its expansion plans. In May, MARTA disclosed it had spent nearly half the proceeds of the new sales tax on enhanced bus service instead of new transit lines. More recently, council members sought detailed information after a former MARTA official said the agency was more than $1 billion short of the revenue needed to complete the full expansion plan.
Earlier this month, MARTA announced a revised plan that prioritizes nine projects, including an Atlanta Streetcar extension to Ponce City Market and bus rapid transit along Campbellton Road, Capitol Avenue and the Clifton Corridor. Other projects would be pushed back to 2035 or beyond. MARTA negotiated the plan with Mayor Andre Dickens.
Council members have greeted that plan with skepticism. Now they’re demanding MARTA open its books to an audit conducted by the city’s finance department.
The resolution approved Monday would seek to answer numerous specific questions. Among them:
– Does the agency maintain comprehensive financial records for the More MARTA program?
– Has the agency mingled More MARTA funds with other revenue sources?
– Has MARTA provided the enhanced bus service it promised, or has expansion money been used to pay for preexisting service levels that should be covered by the agency’s regular 1-cent sales tax, which funds operations across three counties?
– Have other local governments helped pay for planning of projects that cross jurisdictional borders — such as the Clifton Corridor and the Cleveland arterial rapid transit line?
On Tuesday, Councilwoman Marci Collier Overstreet said an independent audit is needed to restore trust with the council and Atlanta residents.
“The audit is not a tool we’re using to do anything other than making sure that our citizens have confidence not only in MARTA, but in the city of Atlanta,” she said.
MARTA doesn’t see it that way. In its statement, the agency said it has administered the expansion program in concert with an intergovernmental agreement between Atlanta and the transit agency. With the prioritized project list in hand, the agency says it wants to “focus on the delivery of the program.”
“The best thing the politicians on the council can do for their constituents in the City of Atlanta is to get out of the way and let MARTA deliver the projects,” the agency said.
Read the original story on AJC.com.