Today’s Courier Herald Column:
Georgia has more counties than any state east of the Mississippi River. There are 159 County Governments, which then spawn many more municipal governments. While the number is limited to this by the Georgia constitution, there continues a movement to grow this number by one more, possibly two. Residents of North Fulton continue to march toward re-constituting Milton County, a breakaway from Fulton generally north of the Chattahoochee River.
The plan is hardly a secret. North Fulton residents have strongly backed the measure for years. With Republican majorities in the legislature, many believe that the time has come for asserting their independence from a county government who owes its base of influence to the City of Atlanta.
Because creating a new county requires amending Georgia’s constitution, however, a Republican majority is not sufficient to put the measure before Georgia’s voters. Amendments require two thirds of each body of the legislature to pass.
An effort to put the measure before voters this year came up significantly short of the votes needed. Democrats are solidly against the idea, but many rural Republicans were also skeptical. Many thought creating more government wasn’t justified, while others, quite frankly, didn’t care to see another political power center created from thin air.
Rural legislators who feel forgotten during many debates appreciate the fact that the aspirations of the North Fulton mega-suburb are tethered by their urban counterparts to the south.
Next year, however, the legislature will be different. Redistricting has moved additional districts away from rural Georgia and into Atlanta’s northern suburbs. Expect an early temperature check to see how close the legislature is to the two thirds needed to create Milton County from much of North Fulton.
More directly impacting this issue is the design of new districts that dip into Fulton County for just a few precincts. The significance is that the local delegation representing Fulton likely will be majority Republican. This would enable legislation to pass which would significantly cut back the size and scope of Fulton County’s government. The vast majority of the county is now incorporated into cities from Milton and Alpharetta in the north to Palmetto and Chattahoochee Hills in the south.
Eliminating duplicative functions conducted by the county and the tax revenues they require is the key goal of the North Fulton legislative delegation while they wait on full county status for Milton. They’re not shy or indirect about their plans either, as discussed in a public meeting this week.
House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones laid out the plans and direction rather bluntly as reported by Rachael Kellogg of Neighbor Newspapers saying “My goal is not to re-create Milton County. My goal is to end Fulton County and bring government closer to the people…But it will take convincing.”
She noted that she believes Fulton should be split into three counties, not just have Milton splinter off from the top.
A breakup of Fulton would involve more issues than drawing lines and setting up new county governments. Fulton is a MARTA county, with 1% of sales taxes directed to the authority to cover well over a billion dollars worth of bonds outstanding and new projects slated to begin if the regional T-SPLOST passes in July.
Fulton, along with DeKalb and the City of Atlanta are also huge benefactors to Grady Hospital, which provides much of the entire Atlanta region’s indigent care. It will be interesting to see what future Milton residents believe their responsibility and contribution to Grady should look like in a post-Fulton County Georgia. Other close in suburban counties such as Cobb, Gwinnett, Clayton and Douglas – each with residents living closer to and using Grady than many in “Milton” – would also look nervously at who will be asked to pick up any Grady shortfalls from a Milton breakaway.
There’s also the association that has developed between Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Governor Nathan Deal that should be considered. Reed has carried much of the responsibility for securing funds for expanding the Port of Savannah and for pushing T-SPLOST towards passage. With Reed up for re-election in 2013, it’s highly unlikely he’ll want to move toward that election watching the state dismantle the county in which he is the largest Mayor. He’s certainly in a position to ask the Governor to reciprocate some gratitude if he so chooses.