By John Schaffner
Re-creating Milton County was the subject of a debate between two old friends who agreed to disagree at the Sandy Springs/Perimeter Chamber of Commerce’s monthly Bagels and Business meeting Nov. 16.
Touting the benefits of a Milton County – from the southern border of Sandy Springs to the northern border of Fulton County — was Sandy Springs Mayor Eva Galambos, who told a large crowd at the Westin North Atlanta hotel, “[Fulton] county still is not treating us right.”
She added, “The creation of Milton County would give us services closer to home that we control, a more effective government, a government that might be able to privatize services, as many of the municipal governments have done, and it will provide the possibility for reduced costs and lower taxes.”
Speaking in favor of keeping the county united was Fulton County Taxpayers Association President John Sherman, who has been critical of the governments of Fulton County and the city of Atlanta.
He said the split would be “devastating” for the city of Atlanta and the remaining south Fulton County.
“I want to start off by saying this is a friendly agreement to disagree,” Galambos said of the debate. With Fulton County, “we have a disconnection between the elected officials and the taxpayers,” she added.
Galambos explained that Fulton County now is about 850,000 people. The new Milton County would be about 290,000 residents. “How close do they feel to their county officials? How closed do they feel to us?” she asked.
Fulton County is 75 miles from top to bottom, a total of 534 square miles. According to the Carl Vincent Institute of Government at the University of Georgia, the per-capita revenues for the new Milton County would be $673. The expenditures would be $476 per person. That leaves a balance of $197 per person. That would allow Milton County to cut taxes or provide better services.
Galambos added, “We do have obligations to Fulton County. … There are outstanding bond issues that are based on the total count of Fulton County. So we would have to make up some of the debt service.”
“After these obligations to Fulton County, we would still have a $22 million fund balance and would be able to cut taxes by 10 percent,” she said.
What would happen to the remaining Fulton County, Galambos asked. Again the Carl Vincent Institute says the per-capita revenues in the remaining county would be $580 and would net $476 per capita, and would have $67 million left over, she said.
Galambos said Milton would have its own school district. “We are the only school district in Georgia that is totally split in the middle by another school district [the Atlanta Public Schools],” she added.
“I think the new Fulton County and the city of Atlanta should merge,” she said.
Sherman argued against splitting up Fulton County, saying the action was not only legally questionable, but if executed could be devastating for the city of Atlanta and the remaining Fulton County.
Referencing a report from the Fulton County Blue Ribbon Commission, a committee created by the Fulton County Board of Commissioners to examine all of the operations of the Fulton County government, Sherman conceded the county needs fixing, but not by splitting it up.
“The city of Atlanta is overpriced. The Atlanta Public Schools system is overpriced. The county is overpriced, but this is not the way to solve it,” the Buckhead resident told the audience.
He pointed out that 67 percent of the costs of Fulton County are mandated or subscribed by law. That totals $199 million per year. Health and Human services accounts for $79 million and the Sheriff’s Dept. is $93 million.
“To meet these mandated fixed costs, Fulton County would have to raise taxes by 30 to 40 percent and that would be the end of the city of Atlanta.” He said that tax increase would cause businesses and residents to move out of Atlanta’s city limits.
He also said the Milton County set-up costs would not be cheap. He estimated $1 billion.