Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul joined his counterparts from across Fulton County on Aug. 28 to confront Fulton County commissioners about the division of federal CARES Act money.

Johns Creek Mayor Mike Bodker, who chairs the mayors’ group, told the commissioners during the special called virtual meeting that Fulton Commission Chairman Rob Pitt had been asked repeatedly to meet with city officials to discuss the division of CARES Act money, but no meeting was held until the mayors threatened to sue the county over the funds. Bodker called Pitts on Aug. 22, after which Pitts scheduled the meeting.

The funds were provided by the federal government to help local governments cover expenses related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Gov. Brian Kemp distributed the funds based on population.

“I think we’ve got an opportunity to use this as a wakeup call to bring our cities and county back together,” said Bodker, who offered to work with the commission chairman to improve communications

The county has increased CARES Act funds to the cities to $15 million from $2.5 million, but the mayors want the commission to consider allocating more to the cities. Bodker said the mayors need the county to issue a statement that gives the mayors full use of any allocated CARES Act funding with no additional restrictions beyond what the federal act requires.

“We need the ability to make our local decisions fully local,” he said.

Pitts said the commissioners would take up the issue at their regular meeting on Sept. 2, which starts at 10 a.m.

The meeting started with a high-level overview of how Fulton County has spent money from the $104 million in CARES Act money that Gov. Brian Kemp released to the county. Jessica Corbitt-Dominguez, the county’s director of external affairs, said $24 million was spent in testing for COVID-19; $21 million was awarded to nonprofit agencies for economic relief and food security programs; $16.2 million was spent on protection, including buying personal protective equipment such as face masks; and $15 million was directed to the 14 cities.

The county initially approved $2.5 million for the cities, but on Aug. 19 approved another $12.5 million for distribution. Atlanta received separate CARES Act funding.

Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul.

Paul asked the county to give a per-city breakout of where the county has spent the money.

“Have they been equitably split?” he asked. “I think all of us are concerned with equity in this process.”

Paul said the county’s presentation showed Sandy Springs will be eligible for $2.7 million. But, he said, the city already has spent more than $4 million in COVID-related expenses. That doesn’t include the likelihood of subsidizing ambulance service in the city by $500,000 because of the extra COVID-related work, he said.

Paul’s biggest concern was that the county had given more to nonprofits than it had to the cities. He questioned whether the county would hold the nonprofit agencies accountable for their expenditures. 

East Point Mayor Deana Holiday Ingraham said a lack of communication has been “as if the county knows best and not the local officials elected by the residents served. We’ve received zero dollars and zero cents in CARES Act spending.”

She was one of several mayors who took issue with the tone of a letter sent to the cities and their attorneys by Fulton County Attorney Patrise Parker-Hooker. “Don’t send me another letter treating me like a child,” Holiday Ingraham said. “Time is up. We are six months into a pandemic that we have no idea when it’s going to end.”

Roswell Mayor Lori Henry said the one thing that Fulton County has done is to get the mayors on the same page. But what did bother her is that Fulton County spent more than $4 million in hazard pay.

“Now I can guarantee each and every one of the cities in Fulton County have had a lot of hazard pay that we don’t have access to recoup those funds,” Henry said.

Fulton Commissioner Liz Hausman said no funds have yet been dispersed to the cities and asked that the county free up some of the allocated funds for the cities.

Bob Pepalis

Bob Pepalis covers Sandy Springs for Reporter Newspapers.