Northside Republican lawmakers have spent decades criticizing Fulton County government as dysfunctional and wasteful. Now they have the power to do something about it.
Expect action, but how swift remains to be seen.
Shifting some county services to cities — as several GOP leaders have suggested — might be too complex, given time constraints and the lack of discussion between lawmakers and city leaders who would face extra expenses. Passing legislation that would allow north Fulton to break away to form a new Milton County remains impractical, mainly because the idea’s most powerful advocate, House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, R-Milton, has never been able to assemble enough votes.
Rep. Wendell Willard, R-Sandy Springs, said such structural changes won’t end the push for secession.
“Maybe lessen the steam,” he said. “Trying to get Milton County has several hurdles that nobody’s figured out how to get around. So in the meantime, let’s make what we have work better.”
One of those hurdles is that breaking off Fulton’s affluent white area from its less-affluent, mostly minority urban area might not survive scrutiny from the U.S. Justice Department. Several Southside leaders have vowed to fight in federal court if the Republicans make any efforts this year to alter the county.
“I think anything they do would be a Justice Department issue,” south Fulton Commissioner Bill Edwards said. “People just need to stop being divisive and allow Fulton County to run its government.”
The north and south ends of Fulton are vastly different in terms of income and demographics, and they’re frequently at odds politically. At issue in the debate is hundreds of millions of city and county tax dollars, the growing political clout of the affluent suburbs and the future of the state’s largest city.
Caught in the middle are residents who rely on city and county governments for roads, police, fire protection, libraries, parks and criminal justice systems.
Northside residents have long said that Fulton siphons their tax money to the south while ignoring their needs. That notion prompted those same residents over the past seven years to form three new cities or be annexed into existing cities.
Southside leaders say their money helped build up north Fulton, so it ought to reciprocate. The dispute has sparked a movement to split off the six northern cities and re-form the former Milton County, which many leaders say would financially eviscerate the communities left behind.
WND acquired the breakdown of 2012 employment for Fulton County and found that of the 4,851 full time county employees, 3,980 of them are black (82 percent). Fulton County has a population that is only 47 percent black. Of the 916 county employees who are classified as “other than full-time employees,” 787 are black (85 percent).A quick breakdown of certain departments shows a trend of exclusion in Fulton County public jobs, with 86 percent of the Arts and Culture Department personnel black; 93 percent of 140 people in the Behavioral Health Department black; 81 percent of the 98 people in the County Managers Department black; 90 percent of the 65 people in the Emergency Services black; 89 percent of the 118 in the Finance Department black; of the 353 in the Health and Wellness Department, 306 are black; of the 37 people in the Purchasing Department, 100 percent are black; of the 19 in the Registrations and Elections Department, 100 percent are black; of the 150 employed in the Tax Assessor Department, 84 percent are black; of the 185 employed in the Tax Commissioner Department, 94 percent are black.
North Fulton is 68 percent white and makes up more than a third of the county population. Its median household income is $93,555, according to north Fulton chamber data.
Dissatisfaction with the county led four Fulton communities -- including Sandy Springs, Johns Creek and Milton in north Fulton -- to vote to form cities during the past decade, changes made possible by Republican gains in the Legislature.
Northside residents have long complained that the county government siphons their tax money to the south while ignoring their needs, while Southside leaders contend that their money helped build up north Fulton, so it ought to reciprocate. The dispute has sparked a movement to split off the six northern cities and re-form old Milton County.
Were that to happen, what remained of Fulton would have a $36,930 median household income, according to a 2009 study by researchers at the University of Georgia and Georgia State. South Fulton is 81 percent black and Atlanta is 54 percent black, according to census statistics.[Emma] Darnell, who represents northwest Atlanta and part of south Fulton, has railed against secession efforts. She did not return phone messages or emails seeking comment Monday and Tuesday.