The Fulton County Board of Commissioners chairman discussed a federal fund dispute with local cities, possible ballot drop boxes at stores, and other pandemic-related topics at an Aug. 17 meeting of the Rotary Club of Buckhead.
Chairman Robb Pitts also alluded to possible sales of underused county property as teleworking by government employees has proven effective.
CARES Act money
In the virtual meeting, Pitts — a Buckhead resident — discussed the $104 million the county received from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which is being spent on such programs as meals for seniors. He noted that the county was eligible for the money automatically based on population “and didn’t need it, quite frankly.” He added that the city of Atlanta got its own CARES reimbursement funding as well because the federal government “fudged the numbers” to send money despite the city being beneath a threshold of 500,000 population.
Fulton’s 14 other cities — including Sandy Springs — are seeking some of the county’s money for their own pandemic expenses and complaining that they are not receiving a fair amount. Pitts acknowledged that “some of the mayors are talking about suing us.” But, he said, cities will receive up to $2.9 million for “legitimate expenses.”
Pitts said the county is concerned that local spending might fall outside the CARES Act parameters, for which the county would be liable for repayments or penalties. But he did not explain how the $2.9 million was influenced by that. However, he noted that virtually the entire county is now incorporated into the cities, so spending by county government has already benefited city residents.
“The citizens benefit, not the cities,” he said of the CARES spending.
Voting convenience and security during the pandemic has become a national issue. In Fulton, confidence was shaken by long lines and other problems that delayed results from the June 9 primary.
“In June, we were accused of not running a very smooth election… I tend to disagree with that,” said Pitts. He acknowledged there were problems at local polling places, but said that other counties had similar problems.
For the November election, where the presidency is among the major offices on the ballot, Pitts said the county aims to have more than 200 polling places and to increase the number of drop boxes where absentee ballots can be left. He said he is in discussion with CVS, Walgreens, Kroger and Publix about possible hosting drop boxes.
Voting with mailed-in ballots has become a major national issue, as President Trump has questioned the integrity of mail-in ballots, without providing specific evidence, and has made supplemental pandemic funding for the United States Postal Service a bargaining chip with Congressional Democrats in talks over a further relief package.
Asked by audience members about mailed-in ballots, Pitts said the big problem with the Postal Service here was people mailing their ballots too late. He said that America has the best voting security in the world, but not give any specifics of Fulton’s protections.
Other pandemic issues
In a brief mention of another pandemic impact, Pitts said the efficiency of county government as employees telework is “call[ing] into question, what do we do with all the real estate we have?” He did not elaborate on how that question would be answered.
He briefly described the county’s day-to-day monitoring of the pandemic, including positive results and hospital intensive care unit capacity. Also being monitored on a more “morbid” note, he said, is county morgue capacity. He said the county leased two refrigerated trailers to place outside the Medical Examiner’s Office, each capable of holding 72 bodies “if you stack the bodies on top of each other.”
Pitts said the county paid $3 million to keep the nonprofit CORE at work locally conducting COVID-19 tests. He said the goal is for 1 million people in the county to have been tested by December.