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