Give Fulton board freedom to decide for itself – just like all Georgia counties

By Guest Columnist JOHN EAVES, chairman of Fulton County’s Board of Commissioners since 2007.

Fayette. DeKalb. Cobb. Clayton. Gwinnett.

Each is one of Georgia’s 159 counties, and each one has been charged with making decisions on behalf of its citizens.  As such, each has a board of commissioners that have been asked by voters to provide government services ranging from public safety to libraries.

Each is responsible for managing emergency responses and gauging potential threats to public health.  Each has workers who take these tasks very seriously.

Fulton County is no different, so why are our hands tied on the ability to fund these vital needs?

John Eaves

John Eaves

We shouldn’t be. But legislation passed two years ago attempted to do just that – prohibiting the Fulton County from seeking ways to adequately fund all of the services our citizens need.  The aim of House Bill 604 was a political one, a bold power grab that comes at the expense of our county’s citizens.

It was one of several pieces of legislation over the last several years aimed at siphoning off ways for Fulton to fund itself. Or to use the words of House Speaker Pro-Tem Jan Jones: “My goal is to end Fulton County.”

Those are her words not mine.

What has followed is three years of legislation generated by the authors of HB 604 and the plaintiffs of this lawsuit – some failed, some successful, all directly attacking our ability to do the public’s business.

At various times, this group of state lawmakers has sought to: create a separate county; create a series of homestead exemptions that would cripple the county’s ability to fund itself; limit the powers of your elected county leadership: and attempt to tell Fulton’s leadership they could not adjust taxes to fund your county services.

That was a step too far, forcing the Board of Commissioners to use its home rule authority to repeal this intrusion upon its duties.  That brings us to the current situation, with this group of lawmakers insisting upon controlling our county from the Gold Dome.  This cannot stand.

Budgeting is a difficult process forcing us to make tough choices.  Our county struggled through the last recession, but we made every effort to avoid raising taxes.

The county’s first countywide millage rate increase since 1992 was only discussed after cuts to programs affecting nearly aspect of county government.

Library hours were reduced to levels that no one wanted.  The cost of meals to seniors was increased.  Our safety-net health care provider, Grady Memorial Hospital, got less funding than in previous years.  All of these are bitter pills to swallow, impacting all of us.

Still our constituents are depending on county services: The 9-1-1 dispatcher getting the fire crew to your home, the courts and judges making sure justice is done. These services need to be funded.  We took the decision to raise the millage rate very seriously.

Frankly, that isn’t the issue here.  The issue is home rule.  It is a right of government at a local level to make determinations on its own behalf.

It is the reason Fulton County doesn’t tell the Roswell Fire Department how to allocate its resources and the reason we don’t tell the Atlanta Police Department what crimes take top priority.  It is not our place.  That is the role of local government.

Similarly, state lawmakers should not have a role in creating legislation solely enacted to target one county, especially as that one county is simply trying to fund its operations and serve its citizens.   No one is making this request of Fayette or DeKalb or Cobb or Clayton or Gwinnett.

Why should Fulton be any different?  Simply put, it shouldn’t be.

Note to readers: Fulton County is the largest county in Georgia with an estimated 995,000 residents. The chairman of the Fulton County Commission, however, is considered to be a part-time job. John Eaves, a Democrat, is  facing Republican challenger, Earl Cooper, in November’s general election.

12 replies
  1. JSVH says:

    Mr. Evans- The amount of services Fulton county has to provide has drastically shrunk with the incorporation of most of the county yet the county has collected more taxes every year property values have increased. As a City of Atlanta resident, they provide me with police, fire, parks, roads, water, sanitation, and many more services yet charge me a lower mil rate than Fulton does. This seems unjustifiable and add to it that the city will be lowering their mil rates this year as you raise them furthers the confusion. 
    Most county residents have come to feel that Fulton County government is disconnected from their interests and thus become apathetic to the process. This tax increase that only raises rates in the incorporated parts of Fulton is a further example of that. 

    If you really want to appear that you are representing the interest of all your constituents, put this to a county-wide referendum.Report

    Reply
  2. ClaireBartlett says:

    Chairman Eaves, I sent this as an email, but will post as a comment here too.  You stated,  “As such, each has a board of commissioners that have been asked by voters to provide government services ranging from public safety to libraries.”
    We voters don’t ask that the Commissioners “provide government services ranging from public safety to libraries.”  We voters ask that the Commissioners be good stewards of our tax dollars and provide only those services not provided by the cities and that we cannot provide ourselves.  For many, many years we voters have been asking the Fulton County Commission to live within its means and to downsize our budget to match the services offered.  However, for some unknown reason the Commission will not do that.  Fulton County is not a business that needs to grow itself for the betterment of its shareholders.  Fulton County is government that needs to minimize itself for the betterment of its shareholders – the taxpayers.
    Even the title of your piece, “Give Fulton board freedom to decide for itself – just like all Georgia counties” doesn’t sit well either.  It’s not the board’s decision, it’s the people’s decision – not the unions, not the employees of Fulton but the people who work and live and pay the taxes which fund the County including salaries.  Most of us cannot attend the meetings and hearing because we work during the day.  We can’t just run downtown to let our voices be heard at a time convenient to the Board.
    Fulton County has been my home for almost my entire life.  I have not been an advocate for creating a new Milton County. I understand those who do; but, I do not want another County, another level of bureaucracy, another government formed.  However, if Fulton cannot – or really will not – live within its means and become better stewards of our trust, money, and time, then I will be forced to become an advocate for such.  It is truly sad for me to have to write these things.  I am disheartened by your editorial (and now in your newsletter); they are divisive and contain half truths.Report

    Reply
  3. SmartAleck says:

    Chairman Eaves  You seem to not ‘get it”, which is concerning for a resident of Fulton County.  
    Fulton County is spending money on pet projects where the county has NO BUSINESS.  The commission obligates the taxpayer  invests in white elephant commercial enterprise (Tuskegee Museum, Wolfe Creek Amphitheater, FanPlex,) that require long-term taxpayer support) are areas where the county has NO BUSINESS!  Fulton supports a disproportionate portion of Grady ($61m last year ALONE!) 
    Time and again, Representative Jones has provided comparisons of Fulton costs for doing the exact same task for surrounding counties, and by any measure, Fulton comes out as the most inefficient, bureaucratic, bungling, cluster of inefficiency possible.  
    Why.  Why, Chairman Eaves?  It is because– as a commission, you have failed your primary task to provide services at the most efficient rate and manner possible.  (Example:  Sell your house in Cobb, and it will be posted w/in 24 hours.  Fulton–6 weeks!  Why? 
    You cannot name a single Fulton department that has not been written up as a bloated behemoth that is unresponsive to the public.  Property Tax Assessor, Tax Collector, Public Works, jails, courts, Fulton Attorney, —name ONE that has not been held up as an example of wasteful government spending.  
    The commission has failed to trim expenses to compare to the new scaled-down responsibilities the county has since municipalization in both North AND South Fulton.  Why are they doing that, Mr. Chairman? TO GET AWAY FROM YOU!  
    What have you (the commission) done to improve anything? ANYTHING?  NOTHING.  

    Even a blind man could see what was going to happen now that you have spend the reserve (you bragged about 4 years ago), left needed capital repair hanging, while building new capital projects (Wolfe Creek, Tuskegee, FanPlex) far outside the scope of all the other county governments in the state?  What??? I didnt hear hear your explanation?  
    The state legislature anticipated exactly what you would do before redistricting whereby the people of N. Fulton would get balanced representation on the Commission—raise taxes. 4 of the commissioners who voted on the tax increase will not even be on the board come January!  
    You can’t get that, Chairman Eaves?  
    If not—why not.Report

    Reply
  4. JLH says:

    Chairman Eaves:
    You just don’t get it, as its not business as usual any more in Fulton County. The taxpayers are fed up with the County Commissioners squandering our money. If the County Commissioners lack any fiscal discipline, what’s wrong with the State Legislature forcing you to be fiscally responsible? I for one do not understand why our taxes need to be increased when we are already pay the highest taxes of any County in any state in the Southeastern United States. JLHReport

    Reply
  5. 4Dees says:

    Chairman Eaves:  As a former resident of Fulton Co. for many, many years until the past year, I can assure you that Fulton County is too large to take care of the best interests of its residents.  As you stated in your column, “each has a board of commissioners that have been asked by voters to
    provide government services ranging from public safety to libraries”.  I completely disagree with you as a voter.  You are charged to be a good and wise steward of the taxpayers monies, not as you stated. 
    One of the boondoggles of the commission was the building of the large outdoor theater in So. Fulton Co. near one of Hartsfield Jackson Airport’s runways.  I did not consider this to be a wise steward of my taxpayer dollars. 

    Most people in Fulton County, who are not blinded by their own political ambitions, realize that the county is simply too large to function efficiently, ethically and for the good of the residents.  The county needs and must be divided into at least two separate counties, three at the most, each with its own county commission.  Most people in the county who live north of the city of Atlanta also realize that the north part of the county has been the cash cow for the rest of the county for far too long.  People living in the north part of the county also realize that they are not represented equally on the county commission. 

    Mr. Eaves, instead of pointing your finger of blame at the Georgia Legislature, it might behoove you to take a good, fair and honest look at how the commission has been run and is still running the county into the ground.  Once you’ve honestly assessed the problems, then perhaps you will agree with a large part of the residents of the county that the time has come to divide Fulton Co. in order to save it from the path of other large cities in the U.S. that are in deep financial trouble.  Remove the blinders!Report

    Reply
  6. Phil Lunney says:

    I spoke in favor of the County Board being allowed to govern. What happened with the State Legislature was much like Clayton County BOE overreach.
    Others who claimed to have all the research and none of the answers other than cut taxes, said that why do they look out their back door and see people that pay 30% less taxes? I moved to Roswell 28 years ago, I knew the taxes were higher than unincorporated Fulton and higher than Gwinnett. I moved to Fulton County to be in the same County as Atlanta; we succeed because of Atlanta, not in spite of Atlanta.
    Without Atlanta, Roswell might be another failed mill town with a couple of religious summer camps. The election of the county officers should be those who can levy taxes and make policy. I have no interest in Milton County.Report

    Reply
  7. Patrick Busko says:

    If Fulton had managed to demonstrate competence somewhere in the past decade it might not have devolved to this point. Courtroom shootings, unsecure/uninhabitable jail, botched elections, incorrect tax bills, judges who won’t throw the book at repeat offenders, etc. Show me that you can effectively and efficiently manage the money you have before you ask me for more.Report

    Reply
  8. ClaireBartlett says:

    What exactly is so insightful about Mr. Lunney’s comment?  Atlanta also sits in DeKalb County.  So what?  I find it reprehensible that SaportaReport offers kudos to those who agree with their position, but we hear crickets from those who don’t agree.Report

    Reply
  9. JSVH says:

    Phil,  
    I agree that a strong City of Atlanta is key to having a strong metro Atlanta. As a City of Atlanta Resident I feel that Fulton has been holding the city back. Atlanta provides police, fire, parks, roads, water, sanitation, and many more services yet charge me a lower mil rate than Fulton does (And CoA is lowering their mil rate this year while Fulton is raising it).
    Atlanta would be better able to attract residents and jobs if Fulton tax rates were not so high. If you really want to help Atlanta, let it become a unified county-city arrangement and eliminate duplicate governments like so many cities have done.Report

    Reply
  10. mariedjack says:

    I am an resident of Fulton County (South Fulton) and I do not want my property taxes raised 17%. Why did the the Board of Commissioners decide to raise the taxes so much at one time. Why didn’t they do it gradually over the years.Report

    Reply

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