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Fulton puts budget on hold

View of Fulton County Commission meeting on January 8 Fulton County Commission January 8. Credit: Maggie Lee

By Maggie Lee

Four of Fulton County’s seven commissioners voted this week to hold the county’s proposed $758 million budget for more discussion.

Some of the struggle is the spending — or lack thereof — on the judiciary and human services.

District 5 Commissioner Marvin Arrington, Jr. moved to pause on the budget after urging more spending on the court system to help bring it up to national standards on measures like speedy trials.

“You don’t budget based off of last year’s numbers. You budget based off of your needs,” Arrington told his colleagues. “And so we can either get the money from a millage rate increase, or we can get the money from reducing that fund balance.”

The “fund balance” is basically savings in the bank. Fulton has to keep some minimum cash in there by law; but it can also decide to spend from it sometimes too.

That’s what Fulton is doing this year a bit, due in part to some one-off expenses like a new animal shelter and new voting equipment

About half of Fulton’s general fund budget would cover “justice and safety:” including spending on courts, the county marshal, the sheriff’s office, the medical examiner, the district attorney’s office, the public defender’s office and others.

District 4 Commissioner Natalie Hall went over a list of commissioners’ requests that didn’t make it into the budget. The list is relatively low-dollar additions to services that the county already provides — like the mobile mammography unit that would add to Fulton’s existing public health services.

But the list is important because it’s what constituents want, said Hall. And she wanted to see a budget with those things listed.

The commission meeting was unusually full of constituents with something to say. The public comment period that usually lasts no more than a half-hour lasted for about three hours on Wednesday.

Most were there to denounce a Fulton County plan to stop applying a for federal grant that it passes to cities for housing, down-payment assistance and other programs. Fulton’s commissioners decided in a 4-3 vote last month that the county isn’t doing a good job of administering the roughly $1.5 million per year. Cities can apply for the money directly, but city officials and residents said it amounted to Fulton throwing away money.

But amid those comments some folks also spoke toward the budget itself, like Rev. Gerald Durley, who for a quarter century was pastor of Providence Missionary Baptist Church.

He called for more funding for senior services, the solicitor general, the district attorney and the board of health.

“You’ve got to vote from a moral perspective,” Durley said.

Hall said she couldn’t express her gratitude enough to the citizens who came to the meeting.

“We will do the right thing to support the citizens. You have been heard,” Hall said.

Not included in the $758 million budget are several “funds.” Those are streams of money that are already set aside for a specific thing and cannot be spent elsewhere. The biggest ones by far are the water and sewer fees that can only be spent on water and sewer works. Adding all 10 of Fulton’s funds to the general budget, total spending will come to about $1.2 billion.

Documents:

Fulton’s draft 2020 budget

 

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Maggie Lee

Maggie Lee is a freelance reporter who's been covering Georgia and metro Atlanta government and politics since 2008.

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