Milton And Fulton – Where Local Politics Becomes State Politics

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.

37 comments

  1. David C says:

    Milton County: Because more balkanized government fiefdoms is what Georgia really needs.

  2. Harry says:

    If two existing counties merge then it would free up number 159 for a Milton County. I don’t know the local politics, but maybe Oconee and Clarke counties should consider merger. It would appear to be mutually beneficial to all residents from a cost-saving perspective. Another idea would be Muscogee and Chattahoochee.

    • Engineer says:

      I agree with you regarding Muscogee and Chattahoochee Counties. There are also several counties in middle and southern Georgia that could be combined as well.

      Schley County with one of it’s neighbors (Sumter seems like an obvious choice)

      Lanier County with Clinch, Berrien, or Lowndes County (or maybe split among the 3 of them)

      And those are just a couple off the top of my head.

        • Engineer says:

          Yeah, I thought about Echols, but I couldn’t decide which county it would fit best with (probably half Clinch & half Lowndes), so I decided to just list the two that were a bit easier to pin.

          • Charlie says:

            It sounds like Echols needs to raise it’s stature a bit. Does it have a daughter that it can send to some track meets?

            • Andre says:

              I would merge Baker and Miller counties.

              If you’ve ever looked at a map, Baker and Miller counties are divided by a single diagonal line, which could easily erased to create Baker-Miller County or Miller-Baker County.

              It matters little to me about the name, so long as it happens.

    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      If you really want to be politically expedient while not having to go through the process of amending the state constitution, don’t try and merge two rural counties that don’t want to be merged together, merge two METRO ATLANTA counties that would be more compatible with each other.

      Merge the City of Atlanta with DeKalb County to form a new “Atlanta County” and a new Milton County can instantly form while the number of counties stays at 159.

      If you want to reform Campbell County from southwest Fulton County while keeping the number of counties at 159 then merge Clayton County in with the City of Atlanta and DeKalb County to form an even larger new Atlanta County and sell it to the residents in those areas by telling them they’ll have the chance to vote for the mayor of Atlanta and have a say in the city government of an expanded “City of Atlanta”.

      You could even preserve the existing sections of what is currently the City of Atlanta, DeKalb County and Clayton Counties by making them some kind of political subdivisions of a county like a borough, or township, or whatever, if you really wanted to recreate or “free” Milton and Campbell counties from a highly-dysfunctional Fulton County while keeping the number of counties at 159 and not having to amend the Georgia Constitution to allow for two more counties.

    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      Merging two existing counties in South Georgia so that predominantly affluent North Fulton could secede from the rest of Fulton so Milton County could be recreated more than likely would not play well with the rest of the state outside of Metro Atlanta.

      You know that it would be portrayed and perceived as “rich and powerful North Georgians look to force two poor rural counties in South Georgia to merge so that some wealthy Atlanta suburbanites can have their own suburban paradise with the (re-)creation of Milton County”.

  3. johnl says:

    No one wants to hear it, but I will say it. If Milton County is formed then the smaller Fulton County/City of Atlanta will turn into Detroit eventually.

    The fact is that without the tax income from North Fulton, the new smaller county will cannibalize itself, raising taxes to an unbelievable rate (they ain’t low now) to make up for the shortfall. Well-to-do and middle class residents will flee, and then property values will plummet.

    Believe me, I am sensitive to the complaints of North Fultonites. What do they get as a return on their investment? Not much. However, I submit that the cure is worse than the disease and it will destroy this city.

  4. xdog says:

    That was a good read. Thanks.

    Over time a new Milton County would mean no Grady, no Marta. Hell, nobody would care.

    “maybe Oconee and Clarke counties should consider merger.”

    No way. White rural wealthy goper Oconee, where I live, wants nothing to do with black urban poor donk Clarke except its football team in the fall and its bar scene Friday night.

  5. UpHere says:

    Outside of creating Milton County, Republicans will have a majority in both the House and Senate delegations next year. Many changes can be made through local legislation.

  6. South Fulton Guy says:

    Johnl,

    Since the introduction of Special Service Districts (SSDs) prohibiting the allocations of dollars from one district to another which predated the recent North Fulton incorporations, what money coming south are you referring to?

    • Andre says:

      Pay no attention to…(ahem)…South Fulton Guy.

      He’s one of those folks who voted to keep south Fulton County unincorporated, and as a result, caused local south Fulton issues to be decided by folks like Tom Lowe and Liz Hausmann.

      I like Liz Hausmann. She’s my friend on Facebook. But Liz Hausmann has no business voting on planning, zoning, and taxes in south Fulton.

      Unlike many of the short-sighted members of the Fulton County Commission, namely Emma Darnell and Bill Edwards, I believe Fulton County must be reformed.

      It makes little sense for only 10% of the county to remain unincorporated. Sooner rather than later, south Fulton needs to decide which city to join or which city to form. After all, it isn’t lost on people that all of Fulton County is paying for a referendum to authorize Sunday alcohol sales in south Fulton.

      • Harry says:

        Good point. If all of Fulton was incorporated, then many county-level expense items could be eliminated.

        • Andre says:

          A 100% incorporated Fulton County would mean a possible reduction in the number of county commissioners. A 100% incorporated Fulton County would certainly mean local control over local issues in local communities. And a 100% incorporated Fulton County would result in Fulton County performing only the functions mandated by Georgia’s Constitution. A 100% incorporated Fulton County reforms Fulton in a way that the current structure does not.

    • Harry says:

      I’m trying to understand why people wouldn’t wish to incorporate, if by doing so they could eliminate a lot of overhead and lower their tax bill.

    • Andre says:

      I’d be more appreciative of your concern about my legal defense, South Fulton Guy, if only your words weren’t laced with poison.

      I think you should stick to the topic at hand.

      Tell me, South Fulton Guy, how do you feel about voters in Sandy Springs, Milton, Alpharetta, Johns Creek, Roswell and Mountain Park deciding whether south Fulton gets to sell alcohol on Sundays?

      How do you feel about two north Fulton commissioners, Liz Hausmann and Tom Lowe, voting on taxes in south Fulton?

      South Fulton Guy, I don’t know if your teachers taught you this, or if you even paid attention in class, but this great nation of ours was founded on one of the basic principles that there should be no taxation without representation.

      “Taxation without representation is tyranny,” said James Otis, Jr. of Massachusetts.

      Since the 2007 vote on cityhood, unincorporated south Fulton County is regularly subjected to the tyranny of taxation without representation.

      Four Fulton County commissioners –Liz Hausmann, Tom Lowe, Joan Garner and Emma Darnell– have voted to raise taxes in unincorporated south Fulton County. And these four Fulton County commissioners will never have to face the voters of unincorporated south Fulton County. These four county commissioners will never stand accountable for their votes.

      Why?

      Because unincorporated south Fulton County didn’t elect Liz Hausmann. Unincorporated south Fulton County didn’t elect Tom Lowe. Unincorporated south Fulton County didn’t elect Joan Garner or Emma Darnell.

      Now that may be completely acceptable to you, South Fulton Guy, but that is completely unacceptable to me.

      I reject the tyranny of taxation without representation.

      I reject north Fulton deciding local issues for south Fulton. I want to decide.

      And, South Fulton Guy, like it or not, sooner rather than later, south Fulton needs to decide which city to join or which city to form because once the GOP takes control of the Fulton County legislative delegation, the rails will be greased for bills like House Resolution 1589 to pass.

  7. South Fulton Guy says:

    Andre,

    Have you, Bennie Crane and South Fulton Concerned Citizens already drawn the map carving up the area – since the will of the people for one less layer of government is seemingly irrelevant? You know we need Massa to show us what’s best for us on the plantation.

    Lastly are you representing any special interests that you should disclose as you did in the failed campaign for the City of South Fulton?

    • Andre says:

      The way I see it, unincorporated south Fulton County (which is majority black, by the way) is already on the plantation.

      Fulton County commissioner Bill Edwards is the master keeping the south Fulton negroes in line.

      If you want to use racial connotations, South Fulton Guy, I have no qualms in going there.

      I would note that in your rush to race, you failed to answer the two questions I posed to you.

      1.) How do you feel about voters in Sandy Springs, Milton, Alpharetta, Johns Creek, Roswell and Mountain Park deciding whether south Fulton gets to sell alcohol on Sundays?

      -And-

      2.) How do you feel about two north Fulton commissioners, Liz Hausmann and Tom Lowe, voting on taxes in south Fulton?

  8. South Fulton Guy says:

    1) Don’t care – that is the law that county wide issues are voted on a county wide basis as Cobb County found out.

    2) Liz and Tom if anything have voted across the board to keep taxes lower. Either way you need 4 commission votes.

  9. South Fulton Guy says:

    Andre,

    State Statutes (Law not House “RESOLUTIONS”) are still subject to Department of Justice preclearance under section 5 of the Civil rights act. Election officials have to get preclearance to move a polling place across the street in GA.

    With the aggressive DOJ assault on voter ID and illegal alien laws actually passed, do you really think the Obama Justice Department will sanction resolutions or laws forcing a majority Black area to forcefully be divided up altering voting strength? – NOT

    • Andre says:

      Either you know diddly about the legislative process or you lack reading comprehension skills.

      House Resolution 1589, sponsored by state Representative Ed Lindsey, is a proposed constitutional amendment that would “limit the functions performed by any county with more than 80 percent of its land area located in one or more municipal corporations to those functions required by law or authorized by intergovernmental contract?”

      House Resolution 1589 would, for all intents and purposes, get Fulton County out of the business of providing city-like services to unincorporated south Fulton; which means that either south Fulton would have to become a city, join an existing city, or Fulton County would have to contract with one of the existing cities to provide city-like services to unincorporated south Fulton.

      House Resolution 1589 does not dilute minority voting strength, so it would likely pass DOJ muster. Come to think of it, dividing unincorporated south Fulton into one of the six existing south Fulton cities doesn’t dilute minority voting strength either. College Park, East Point, Fairburn, Hapeville, Palmetto and Union City already have majority minority voting age populations. Most of the south Fulton elected officials are black. Unincorporated south Fulton is majority black, which means that if unincorporated south Fulton was divided up and placed into an existing city, the majority black voters of south Fulton would maintain the ability to elect candidates of their choice.

      House Resolution 1589, the proposed constitutional amendment, simply says if a county is over 80% incorporated, then that county’s functions shall be only those functions mandated by law; those functions being running the county judicial system, operating the county libraries, and providing health and human services.

      As I’ve said so many times before, Fulton County has no business in the city services business.

      It makes little sense for Fulton County to have a police department, a fire department, a code enforcement department, a planning and zoning board, and a parks and recreation department for only 10% of the county.

      If Fulton County were 100% incorporated, it would save all Fulton County residents money, because government would gradually decrease in size.

      Seven county commissioners would no longer be needed. Five county commissioners can handle the court system, the libraries, and health and human services. Right there, thousands of dollars in salaries for two commissioners, their staff, and their offices are saved.

      More money is saved by eliminating the county police and fire departments. Sell off all the surplus equipment to other local governments, give the employees their severance, and call it a day.

      I could go on for a little bit longer, but I won’t.

      Since 2007, the Democrats have stood in the way of much needed reform for Fulton County. The Democrat-controlled Fulton County Commission even authorized the use of public funds to oppose any attempt to reform Fulton County.

      Next year, when the Republicans take control of the Atlanta-Fulton legislative delegation, we will finally see Fulton County reformed for the better.

      Those reforms certainly will include many of the recommendations from the 2007 Joint Study Committee on Fulton County report.

      Reforming Fulton County is one of the few ways to keep Milton County from becoming a reality.

  10. South Fulton Guy says:

    1) Can someone explain how incorporating will save unincorporated South Fulton residents money?
    2) Can someone list the countywide services and which ones would be eliminated with South Fulton’s incorporation?

  11. South Fulton Guy says:

    @Andre,

    I will bet you are excited about being assimilated by College Park, given the stats below. Tell me what will happen to Fulton Schools after the split – will South Fulton Students really be better off in Atlanta Public Schools?

    The unemployment rate in College Park, GA, is 10.10%, with job growth of -0.55%. Future job growth over the next ten years is predicted to be 28.80%.

    College Park, GA,sales tax rate is 8.00%. Income tax is 6.00%.

    The income per capita is $18,344, which includes all adults and children. The median household income is $38,095.

    Source: http://www.bestplaces.net/economy/city/georgia/college_park

  12. South Fulton Guy says:

    Historian Walker how many constitutional amendments have been approved in GA in the last 20 years?

    • Andre says:

      Going back to 1992, twenty years ago, a total of fifty amendments have been submitted to Georgia’s voters for ratification or rejection.

      Forty-three of the fifty amendments have been approved by the voters, including every constitutional amendment submitted between 2004 and 2010, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

      I like the chances of House Resolution 1589 passing both houses of the General Assembly, and being ratified by the voters in 2014.

      • Andre says:

        Are you done questioning me, South Fulton Guy, or shall I continue to demonstrate that I am a damn good researcher?

      • Harry says:

        Andre, do you have a link to those 43 approved amendments? You raised my curiosity – but I can’t find them online anywhere.

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