By DOUG NURSE The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Published on: 01/24/08
Fulton County's checks to its two new cities could be in the mail shortly.
Legislation being filed this week by state Rep. Jan Jones (R-Milton) will require Fulton County to give Johns Creek and Milton unspent tax money collected from area residents before the cities were incorporated.
Milton City Councilwoman Tina D'Aversa said she wants to use the money to fix some intersections and develop or restore city parks, such as Providence Park, Birmingham Park, and some of the city's pocket parks.
"There will be a lot of things we had in mind for our citizens that we can do much sooner than later," she said. "We'll be able to start delivering on some of these promises we made."
Fulton County still has about $5.4 million it collected in 2006 from residents of what is now Milton, and $2.7 million from Johns Creek taxpayers. Sandy Springs had no money left over in its old accounts.
The cash came from special property taxes collected from residents before the cities incorporated. The money was to be spent in the areas from which it was collected. When the cities were incorporated on Dec. 1, 2006, officials were surprised to find there was still unspent money in the Johns Creek and Milton districts.
The money has been collecting dust because, the county claimed, there was no legal mechanism for returning the money. The law never anticipated that there would be unspent money.
"Fulton County is a willing suitor," Jones said. "They're willing to give us the money, but we're just going to clarify the law."
The county attorney's office told Commissioner Lynne Riley that the county couldn't just give it to the cities because there's a legal prohibition against counties just giving money, or property, to cities. Riley said she was told the law also says the county can only spend its money in unincorporated areas, which means they can't pay directly for projects inside cities.
But the county couldn't use the money either. A law called the Shafer Amendment, which addresses the creation of new cities, says that money raised in specific areas can't be transferred to any other county budgetary account.
For Milton, the $5.4 million is about a third of its $16 million budget. For Johns Creek, $2.7 million would help launch its fire department or police department.
City, county, and state officials considered three options: Rebate the cash directly to the taxpayers, give it to the cities, or use it as matching funds on behalf of the cities for road improvements.
Ultimately, giving the money to the cities was deemed the simplest and fastest way to get the money back to the areas from which it came.