By Maggie Lee
Fulton’s northside legislators started the session promising to push for a couple of things of local interest: a vote to create a new Milton County and something to take down the tolls on Ga. 400.
Still to come are bills that could radically change the county commission. With the session more than three-quarters over, time to move is running out.
It’s not likely the Legislature will address Milton County this year. The proposal to ask Fulton voters if communities from Sandy Springs north should leave Fulton to reconstitute the disappeared Milton County appears stalled.
“We’re still waiting to see if we have the votes,” Rep. Wendell Willard, R-Sandy Springs, said of the Milton movement.
Creating a new county would require changing the state Constitution, so Milton partisans need a two-thirds majority in each chamber to get the question on a statewide ballot. Democrats are likely to join lawmakers in central and south Fulton against Milton, and Republican sentiment is divided.
Rep. Ed Lindsey, R-Buckhead, a Milton opponent last year, said the vote may not come up this year because it’s traditional to vote on constitutional amendments only in even-numbered years, so they can appear on the ballot during elections most likely to turn out voters.
Asked if Milton could pass next year, he said that will depend on what happens in the Fulton County Commission in the intervening time.
In fact, he said he plans to file a bill to have ready for next year that would limit the number of services provided by Fulton County.
He would leave the sheriff’s office, courts, jails and public health in county hands and have cities provide other services. Most of the county is municipalized, Lindsey pointed out, and cities should provide services. “There’s no county like Fulton that has so many cities,” he said.
Schools would not be affected by his bill as they’re run by the Board of Education.
Soon, several other bills that would radically change Fulton County government are expected to be filed.
Rep. Kathy Ashe, (D-Atlanta) confirmed she’s writing a bill to “define the powers of the Fulton County Commission chair.”
Right now, the chair has relatively few powers. He or she cannot set the agenda for commission meetings, for example.
A bill presented last year would have made the commission chair more like an executive and Ashe said the proposal this year will be similar. Among other powers, the chair would have the power to hire and fire key staff including the county manager, subject to commission agreement.
Last year, the bill had bipartisan support but never passed either chamber.
Lindsey said empowering the chair and staggering commission terms would both be “positive moves,” as well as allowing some county boards and commissions to expire.
Finally, the Ga. 400 toll booths won’t be falling anytime soon.
Lindsey said the legislature can’t really do anything since bonds already have been sold against toll revenue through 2020. A bill in the Senate, sponsored by John Albers (R-Roswell), would make all future toll renewals subject to General Assembly approval.
The state Legislature will finish its annual session at a yet-to-be-determined date, likely in mid-April.