My thoughts on yesterday’s South Fulton referendum…

…First, let me say that it is not lost on me that the white voters of Fulton County voted overwhelmingly to get out from under control of the Fulton County Commission, while the black voters voted to as my leader Benny Crane said, “have a city controlled by six commissioners who don’t live in south Fulton County.” It also is not lost on me that the South Fulton Special Services District (that’s Fund 301 in the Fulton County budget) has a deficit of $10,877,320 which can only be offset by either raising taxes, cutting services, or a combination of both.

Last night’s vote re-opened the door to annexation in South Fulton. I know for a fact that the new City of Chattahoochee Hills Country plans on annexing about 7,000 acres of land on the western borders of unincorporated South Fulton. Members of the Sandtown community are now free to pursue (once again) annexation into the City of Atlanta. The City of College Park can now go after the Old National Hwy. corridor. Union City can continue their annexation of South Fulton Parkway.

Do you see where I’m going here?

Lastly, South Fulton’s fate is now at the mercy of the Joint Legislative Study Committee on Fulton County Governance. At this committee’s last meeting, the panel’s members said they were in a holding pattern waiting to see what the result of the South Fulton vote would be. The results are in and it was a resounding no, and quite frankly, South Fulton does not have the votes in the Georgia General Assembly to stop any recommendation that comes out of that committee, barring a proposed constitutional amendment.

I personally don’t have any regrets about the campaign the South Fulton Concerned Citizens ran to win yesterday’s referendum. We surrounded ourselves with some great people; people like Jon Anderson, former Executive Director of the Democratic Party of Georgia, who (along with the other folks at Mad Dog Mail) ran our direct mail program. We utilized some of the new organizing tools provided by the Democratic Party of Georgia; particular the VoteBuilder online voter file database to target the “super voters” who would be more likely to vote in yesterday’s referendum. We used that information to get out in the field and talk to voters about the benefits of the new city as well as to recruit volunteers to help us spread the word about the new city.

In the last month of the campaign, we raised close to $10,000, and we used it efficiently. We ran robo-calls. We did direct mail. We ran newspaper and radio ads. We picked up several endorsements. In short, we left it all out on the field, and while there are a few things I would’ve done differently, I believe the overall campaign we ran was a great one that was run the way campaigns are supposed to be run.

Honestly, we were outspent and out-gunned. There was a lot of money spent in defeating the City of South Fulton, and to this day, the public does not know where that money came from. We ran a clean campaign while our opponents ran a dirty campaign that may have violated several ethics and election laws, but we’ll let the Secretary of State’s office and the State Ethics Commission be the judge of that.

In the end, I don’t have any regrets whatsoever. The people decided and the people will have to live with their decision along with the consequences of their decision far into the future.

15 comments

  1. drjay says:

    i guess the flip side of this is–does having cities really keep the counties out of your business??

    maybe volume is part of the equation (chatham county is clearly not as large as fulton) or the testiness of race relations in atl.–but we have a county park inside the city limits of my hometown and noone is scandalized by it…if a sherriff’s deputy serves a warrant in pooler the local police do not feel threatened or offended by it…of course many of the smaller counties are all consolidating w/ their county so i suppose the city/county relationship may be much more complicated than i can get my brain around…

  2. Trackboy1 says:

    Bill Edwards gets to keep his fiefdom. Gets to keep handing out jobs and contracts. The shadiness continues. Maybe he can try to sell some parks again. Damn I hate that guy.

  3. jamesr1991 says:

    First I’m stunned that Benny Crane would induce race into the vote for a city of South Fulton. We chose not to start a city at this time because the finances were not there!!! A deficit of the $10 million in Fund 301 is new to me. I’d like to see the budget projections.

    As for annexations…I don’t want to lose our schools to Atlanta for their use when they don’t need them. I’ve been told a plan is in place to make Westlake THE magnet school for APS if the area is annexed. That means we’ll lose our community school that is making such great strides in the classroom and on the athletic field. I didn’t write letters and attend meetings just to see the new Westlake become an Atlanta school!!!

    Trackboy get off the track with your same old rhetoric. Show me what job and contracts that are being handed out by ANYof the county commissioners.

    The state legislature is full of losers. Why does the state find it necessary to get involved into the day-to-day operations of Fulton County? Isn’t North Fulton fully incorporated? Don’t they have CONTROL of their destiny. Why are they bothering with the rest of us? The state legislature is full of bigots. Had Lee Morris and the other guy won the chair and District 2 seat they wouldn’t care about Fulton. Because the faces down here don’t match their faces they are out to get rid of it. The Justice Department should look into their attempt to disenfranchise minorities in Fulton County.

  4. Andre Walker says:

    James,

    It surprises me to read that you didn’t know about the $10,877,320 deficit in Fund 301. The budget for the South Fulton Special Services District is in black and white on page 4 of the 23 page budget for Fulton County.

    The South Fulton Special Services District had revenues of $38,024,909 and expenses of $48,902,229 creating a deficit of $10,877,320.

    However, the Fulton County Commission keeps Fund 301 in the black by continuously transferring funds from Fund 300 into Fund 301. For example, in 2006, the Fulton Commission transferred $12,000,000 from Fund 300 to offset an $5,302,684 deficit leaving Fund 301 with a $6,697,316 fund balance. This year, 2007, the Fulton Commission transferred $6,000,000 from Fund 300 to Fund 301 to offset a projected $10,877,320 budget shortfall leaving the South Fulton Special Services District with a fund balance of $1,819,996.

    But…

    James, here’s the thing, the funds in Fund 300 are being depleted. On page 3 of the Fulton County budget, Fund 300 has a reserved fund balance of $11,800,000 and an unreserved fund balance of $7,374,225 bringing the total number of dollars in that account to $19,174,225. In other words, about $11.8 million of Fund 300 is already spent, so only about $7.3 million is available for the county to transfer into the South Fulton SSD to offset the probable deficit for FY2008.

    Now James, I’m pretty sure you know that the South Fulton SSD is used to provide city-like services (fire, police, planning & zoning, etc.) to unincorporated South Fulton; and I’m pretty sure you also know that funds from the Fulton County General Fund can not be used in the South Fulton Special Services District. What all this means is that once Fund 300 runs out of money within the next year or two, the South Fulton Special Services District will have nothing to fall back on to cover its ever increasing deficit; which if the trend continues ($5.3 million in 2006, $10.8 million in 2007) will balloon to $15 million next year.

    In short, you’re facing either a tax increase, a decrease in services, or a combination of both.

  5. Andre Walker says:

    Also, let me add that South Fulton unincorporated is currently ineligible to receive tax dollars that are currently collected from the area by Fulton County.

    Those dollars include:

    the local option sales tax;
    fines & forfeitures from the courts; and
    franchise fees

    According to the study conducted by Georgia State University and Dr. Robert Eger, South Fulton as a city would’ve been eligible to receive $11,863,248 in local option sales tax dollars; $1,716,954 in fines & forfeitures; and $1,129,575 in franchise fees bringing an additional $14,709,777 in additional revenue to the City of South Fulton that South Fulton unincorporated can not get. Right now, that $14,709,777 goes into the Fulton County General Fund and is spent not only in unincorporated South Fulton, but all over the rest of Fulton County as well.

    As these annexations move forward, unincorporated South Fulton County’s tax base will continue to be decimated which will create a situation where the county can no longer afford to provide city-like services to the remaining unincorporated area.

    Even if, no other annexation took place, within two years, Fulton County would not be able to afford to provide city-like services to unincorporated South Fulton without raising taxes; and that’s based on all the information I laid out in my previous comment.

    But all this is water under the bridge now. South Fulton voters voted and they decided to remain unincorporated.

    And James to answer your last two questions:

    1.) Why does the state find it necessary to get involved into the day-to-day operations of Fulton County?

    -and-

    2.) Why are they bothering with the rest of us?

    Three words…

    …Because they can.

  6. Harry says:

    Seems pretty obvious that unincorporated South Fulton – and maybe Hapeville, East Point and College Park – will at some point annex into Atlanta and continue to receive subsidy from the booming intown and northside, and bolster the political base of the Atlanta black politicians while also maintaining the Fulton black politicians. The more affluent neighborhoods will not see tax relief. I’m glad I live in Gwinnett. We have a fiscally conservative county administration, and yes, it will continue for the foreseeable future.

  7. Harry says:

    As a result of the vote against South Fulton incorporation yesterday, property taxes throughout Fulton will remain high and curtail future growth and development throughout the county. If South Fulton had incorporated, there was a real chance that Fulton could have been dissolved.

  8. Harry says:

    White or black, Republican or Democratic, the Fulton County Commission has been pretty ineffective and sometimes ethically compromised for the last 25 years or so. Remember “Shag” Cates? This bunch have done nothing to become more taxpayer proactive. I understand the legislature may split the county into three parts: north, central (Atlanta), and south. Could this happen?

  9. jamesr1991 says:

    Everyone outside of Fulton County seems and some of the uninformed think Fulton County is going to be put of business. NOT!!! The county still runs a thriving criminal justice system as well as human services which serves a large senior population.

    The fact of the matter is Atlanta which is the county seat and capital of the state is one of the poorest cities in the nation. With that poverty comes responsibility. The city of Atlanta doesn’t run ANY human services type programs by law that falls to the county and state.

    Taxes in Fulton County are comparable to the rest of the state for the services that are provided. No other county has the population and poverty levels.

    Fulton County does an admirable job with the cards its dealt. I dare say anyone in the state is doing a better job with the exact same circumstances.

  10. Andre Walker says:

    Harry,

    The short answer to your question is yes, it is entirely possible that Fulton County may be split in two or even three new counties.

    The proposed constitutional amendment allowing this is House Resolution 12, and the bill allows for “the re-creation of a county which was previously merged with and made a part of another county.”

    The two counties that were “merge with and made a part of another county” are Milton and Campbell counties. Those two counties merged with Fulton County to create the elongated, dysfunctional county government we see today.

    I personally feel that Fulton County has gotten too big for its britches, and I’m not against the re-creation of Milton County at all. In fact, I wouldn’t mind seeing the re-creation of Campbell County either (and FYI, this is not a completely new position for me; I testified in front of former state Sen. Sam Zamarippa’s Fulton County Study Committee two years ago, and put forth the same proposal I’m putting forth now).

    In order for this constitutional amendment to be placed on the ballot for 2008, the Republicans need to pick up 13 votes in the House and 4 votes in the Senate to reach their magic number of 120 and 38 respectively.

    Do I think they can get their 2/3rds?

    Yeah…eventually.

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