Dear Atlanta voters: If you’re wondering if it’s still worth it to trek out to the polls today, consider this: The city’s Municipal Option Sales Tax, or MOST, is also on the ballot today, and if it fails, your water bills could go up by as much as 30 percent, according to Mayor Kasim Reed.
That’s because we’re still paying off the $4 billion court-ordered overhaul of the city’s sewer and water system, which began in 1999. For the past 12 years, nearly a quarter of the price tag has been paid by a penny sales tax. Today’s vote will determine if the penny sales tax continues through 2020.
Of course, it’s not like the penny sales tax has meant low water bills. Indeed, Atlanta currently has the second-highest average water rates in the nation. At the moment, a family of four can expect to pay around $140 a month to keep water flowing to their faucets. That’s after the penny sales tax, meaning that if voter rejected the measure today, those rates would go through the roof.
“We bear most of the cost ourselves,” Reed today said outside his polling place in southwest Atlanta. “The tax is one way we have people share in that cost. … It’s very important to all of us to keep our personal water bills from going up and allow our guests to share some of that cost.”
However, not everyone sees the tax as a good thing for the city. Matthew Garbett, a local activist who lives in Adair Park, believes the city has misled residents in its promotion of MOST. Though a “yes” vote would ensure that Atlanta’s water rates remain the same, local businesses will continue to have to collect an extra penny for every dollar in revenue. Instead, Garbett says, residents should have paid the full costs of their water they used all along.
“It’s hiding what you’re spending,” Garbett said. “We have the second-highest water bills in the country. Part of that cost is hidden in other purchases so you don’t have that embarrassment [of being the highest].”
Atlanta’s polls will remain open today until 7 p.m. Thomas Marks, a U.S. Postal Service employee, got out to the polls early in the day. For him, there was no other choice than a “yes” vote: He felt the renewal of the tax would continue to help Atlanta improve its water quality and fix the sewers. If his vote’s going to matter for something—unlike the presidential train wreck on which he has little say—it might as well be the one sending funky water to his tap.
“When you know there’s going to be a storm, you don’t wait until the last minute to [fix things],” he said. “Stuff like that shouldn’t happen. If you go out before, you won’t have that problem.”