New Fulton County authority to face poverty-causing gaps in digital, energy systems
By David Pendered
To address root causes of poverty in Fulton County, by bridging the digital and energy divides, a new authority was impaneled Monday with wide powers to address various issues that impede improvements in struggling neighborhoods.
The Georgia Legislature established the Fulton Technology and Energy Enhancement Authority. Gov. Brian Kemp signed House Bill 762 into law on May 3 without issuing comment.
The authority has the typical powers of authorities established by the Legislature. It can borrow money to develop projects by selling revenue bonds, and repay the debt with proceeds of money raised through the projects. It can acquire property and hold, lease and sell it. County taxpayers are not on the hook to repay investors if projects fail to recoup its costs.
Additional powers relate to renewable energy. For example, the authority is enabled to:
- “[C]ontract for the construction of renewable energy infrastructure and buildings and facilities, including but not limited to green buildings or facilities, and to use, sell, or lease such infrastructure, buildings, products, and facilities to accomplish the purposes of the authority….”
State Rep. Mesha Mainor (D-Atlanta), the lead sponsor of HB 762, portrays the authority as a means for Fulton County to secure its postion in public sustainable infrastructure.
“For Georgia to continue to be a leader in business enterprise solutions, Fulton County in particular must help meet the demand of underrepresented human capital assets in the state,” Mainor said in a June 22 statement. “If we aren’t planning for sustainability now, we lose. The FTEEA will put Fulton County on the map as a national leader in public sustainable infrastructure, and this is great for Georgia.”
Terms of how the authority is to identify and achieve its goals are to be determined by the seven board members who are to oversee the authority. Those seven members were impaneled Monday in a swearing-in ceremony in the House chamber in the state Capitol. The inaugural members and their affiliations are:
- John Bayalis – Atlanta Regional Commission;
- Merry Hunter Caudle – Georgia Tech;
- Deitra Crawley – Taylor English Duma LLP;
- Collie Greenwood – MARTA;
- Allie Kelly – The Ray;
- Robb Pitts – Fulton County Board of Commissioners;
- Michael “Marty” Turpeau – Development Authority of Fulton County.
The broad outline of the authority’s scope of work states it is to be an entity:
- “[C]apable of identifying, targeting, and alleviating the specific elements relating to the underdevelopment of technological resources and energy burdens which are causing poverty, increased unemployment rates, and statistics comparable to failing school rates and underdevelopment in these pockets and develop programs to address them.”
The opening lines of the legislation Mainor introduced are a stark reminder of the divides that do exist in Fulton County:
- “The General Assembly finds that while the Fulton County is a world renowned center of technological innovation, pockets exist throughout the county where technological and energy resources are extremely lacking. These deficiencies hinder the development or redevelopment of these pockets and lock the residents of these pockets into poverty by denying them the opportunity for prosperity and great wealth like other areas of the county.”
The extremes are evident in a county that’s home to both Tech Alpharetta, which promotes a thriving tech hub, and Atlanta Public Schools, which scrambled last year to provide nearly 50,000 devices and more than 15,000 hotspots or in-home connections so students could study at home.
The authority is to focus its attention on geographic areas within ZIP codes in Fulton County that meet one of the following four criteria:
- “Has an energy burden 30 percent higher than the average energy burden of the county;
- “Where the high schools serving the area have graduation rates that are in the bottom quarter of all high schools in the county when ranked from highest to lowest graduation rate;
- “When all ZIP Codes in the county are ranked by their poverty rate, is in the top ten percent of such ranking; and
- “Where the reading level of third grade students is at least 85 percent of the countywide average reading level for such students.”
An additional carve-out addresses the region west of Georgia Tech’s campus:
- “It is further the purpose of the authority to significantly reduce poverty in the communities west of the main campus of the Georgia Institute of Technology by simultaneously creating jobs in the nontraditional trades of technology and energy.”