In the final days of Georgia’s legislative session, Rep. Edward Lindsey filed a house resolution he hopes could be an alternative solution to the Milton County debate.
House Resolution 881, signed by a bipartisan group of Fulton County representatives, proposes a constitutional amendment that would change the way largely municipalized counties like Fulton deliver services.
“They would be able to provide municipal services to the little remaining unincorporated area as long as the residents of that area are 100 percent responsible for the costs,” Lindsey said. “There would be no subsidies from the rest of the county. The main thing we’re trying to do is get the county out of the business of providing services that the cities should be providing.”
Lindsey said his resolution goes hand in hand with the debate over the recreation of Milton County from the portion of Fulton County north of Atlanta.
“Time and time again as we have looked at people’s complaints about the operation of county government, the county government has chosen to ignore those complaints,” Lindsey said. “That’s one reason so many folks in north Fulton are clamoring for Milton County because they don’t feel like anyone is listening to them.”
He called his proposal “an alternative solution to what I believe are legitimate concerns raised by residents of north Fulton and citizens throughout the county, not just north Fulton.”
The state requires counties to provide some services, such as courts, jails and public health.
“Historically we’ve had a problem with folks living in municipal areas helping to subsidize the local services such as roads being provided in unincorporated areas. That’s been a real problem in Fulton County for years,” Lindsey said. “Seeing how 95 percent of the county’s population has elected to live in a city, it makes more sense to me.”
Lindsey said the goal of the resolution is to reduce residents’ property taxes. “One estimation is this could reduce the burden by as much as 25 percent,” Lindsey said.
The Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods, a coalition of Buckhead home owners, recently discussed the resolution with Lindsey.
Jim King, chairman of the council, said he is not yet sure if the proposed measure would be a good thing for Buckhead, which is in the city of Atlanta.
At the council’s April 14 meeting, King said he worried that the resolution could lead to unincorporated areas being annexed into the city of Atlanta, which would dilute Buckhead’s voting power.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us to look out for what’s in our best interest,” King said. “We’ve got to be careful.”
Rep. Wendell Willard, a Sandy Springs Republican who signed the resolution, said he supports the measure because it would put general fund money — which all county taxpayers contribute to — off limits for services to specific areas.
“The county is using those general funds to give local services to that unincorporated area,” Willard said. “That’s inappropriate. The county should be limited with what it can do with the general funds.”
Emil Runge, a spokesman for Fulton County Board of Commissioners Chairman John Eaves, declined to comment on the proposed amendment.
In order for a constitutional amendment to be successful, it must first be approved by two-thirds of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. It can then be put before voters during a general election, which takes place during even-numbered years. If approved by a majority of voters, the resolution becomes an amendment to the constitution.
This year, legislative efforts to create Milton County were unsuccessful.
“We have a problem as far as county government,” Willard said in the waning hours of the legislative session on April 14. “We want to have a more responsive government,” he continued, a position shared by those who want to create a Milton County that would include Sandy Springs, Roswell, Alpharetta, Milton and Johns Creek.
To create a new county, the Legislature would have to approve a statewide vote to amend the state constitution. Right now, the state is limited to 159 counties. If another were allowed, Milton would still need local voter approval. The Milton plan calls only for the approval of voters in north Fulton, not the entire county.
– Maggie Lee contributed