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Fulton County’s first test of downsizing: Handing some HUD grants to cities

David Pendered
East Point, first time buyers

By David Pendered

Fulton County has relinquished its role as a pass-through agency for about $1.5 million a year in federal funding for programs ranging from help for the homeless, to down payment assistance for first-time homebuyers, to the Alpharetta YMCA. The issue may be the first test of will to downsize the role of county government now that much of the county is within a city.

East Point, first time buyers

Fulton County is shifting to cities the responsibility for federal funds used for purposes including helping first-time buyers pay a down payment on a residence. These dwellings in East Point are priced from the low $200,000s, according to a sign on the property. Credit: David Pendered

The move isn’t expected to affect the total sum of funds available to Fulton County from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The move is expected to shift the burden to cities for the application and management of HUD funds, Fulton County Chairman Robb Pitts said during a Dec. 18 commission meeting.

Fulton’s Board of Commissioners voted at the meeting to start winding down the county’s role as a federally designated Entitlement Community. The process could take up to two years as county officials reach agreements with the state and federal government, Pitts said.

The decision is intended to result in cities within the county applying for their own federal funding through the Department of Community Affairs. The cities, not the county, will be responsible for administering the program – and responding to audits that were said to routinely criticize the county’s oversight.

Commissioner Bob Ellis said during the meeting that the county has a history of mismanaging the program. The time has arrived to let city governments try their hand, he said. Ellis introduced the proposal.

“This is really about getting folks a better solution than what we can provide,” Ellis said during debate. “There’s nothing that suggests our track record is going to change, and this is a better alternative for us going forward to meet the needs of the county.”

Robb Pitts

Robb Pitts

Commissioner Natalie Hall pushed back during the debate against the notion that Fulton County should get out of the business of managing the program. Hall characterized the move as an attempt to downsize the county’s scope of responsibilities.

“Just because we’re being municipalized does not mean that county services need to be cut,” Hall said. “They are needed more than ever.”

Pitts has launched a review of county services – including whether the county needs seven commissioners to set policy. None run the county’s daily affairs – Fulton has a county manager for that job.

Pitts provided an overview in a Nov. 1 memo to constituents. One segment observes:

  • “The creation of five new cities in Fulton County – Sandy Springs (2005), Johns Creek (2006), Milton (2006), Chattahoochee Hills (2006), City of South Fulton (2017) – has dramatically reduced the role of Fulton County in providing municipal services.
  • “As of 2005, the State of Georgia, Department of Community Affairs listed Fulton County responsible for the service delivery and strategy of over forty plus services.
  • “Many of those services, including fire, police, zoning, planning, parks and recreation are now provided almost exclusively by city governments.
  • “The only area in Fulton County that remains unincorporated is the Fulton Industrial Business District. This seven-mile stretch includes hundreds of businesses and just a few hundred residents. Both the cities of Atlanta and South Fulton have expressed an interest in annexing the remaining area, with Fulton County retaining the Fulton County Executive Airport at Brown Field.
  • “So, as a result of the creation of the new cities, what services should Fulton County provide to its citizens?

 

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David Pendered
David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.

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2 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Joe Beasley December 24, 2019 1:12 pm

    Commissioner Robb Pitts, in my view, has betrayed the poor people of Fulton County. This County, like most of the Nation, is deeply divided along racial lines. Since gentrification has overtaken the County, now majority white, when we look at key indicators, like incarceration and homelessness, we know that something is seriously amiss!

    The County jails population is always nearly 90% African American, the simplistic answer, if you do the crime, you do the time, there are deeper implications. When Peachtree Pine Homeless Shelter closed 99% of it’s resident’s were African American!

    At the recent Commission meeting I asked Chairman Pitts if he would use his “good office” to convene a meeting of leader’s to get to the bottom of the systemic reasons for the vast disparities, (it’s deeper than race)! In a recent email message to Chairman Pitts I challenged him to join me in amplifying the observation by a Georgia State student that the statue of Henry Grady should be removed from Marietta because he was a racist!

    I believe if we have a serious, dispassionate, conversation we will discover that race, (legacy of slavery) is at the core of these disparities.Report

    Reply
  2. Avatar
    Joe Beasley December 24, 2019 1:44 pm

    I spoke with the County Attorney about the decision to no longer be involved in entitlement grants from HUD, she indicated that evidently, they didn’t fully understand how to successfully apply, citing several examples of how it had been detrimental to the County in the past. How can Chairman Pitts take sides with the white Republican’s in the north of the County? John’s Creek resident is doing just fine, but the resident in English Avenue and Vince City is in dire need!Report

    Reply

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