By DOUG NURSE / www.ajc.com
Sunday, November 16, 2008
A bill that could spark the resurrection of Milton County is likely to be heard in the coming legislative session, according to two supporters of the measure.
State Rep. Jan Jones, a Republican from the city of Milton and recently elected House majority whip, said she plans to re-file a measure to allow historically pre-existing counties to re-form if people in the pre-existing county want to. “I’d like a public vote to see where we stand,” she said to the Milton City Council last week. “I’d like to take the temperature of the House.”
Jones said she doesn’t know how it would play in the Senate. State Sen. Dan Moody is the chairman of the Republican Caucus in the Senate.
State Rep. Mark Burkhalter (R-Johns Creek) said he believes the measure is on track to be debated in the House this session starting Jan. 12.
In 1932, a financially strapped Milton County merged with Fulton County to the south. Now, many residents in northern Fulton County, unhappy with their treatment by the County Commission, want to break away and resurrect Milton County.
As envisioned, a re-formed Milton County would have 300,000 people and include Alpharetta, Roswell, Mountain Park and the recently formed cities of Sandy Springs, Milton and Johns Creek. Roswell, which was originally part of Cobb County, joined Fulton to serve as a bridge between Milton and Fulton counties in 1932.
The bill would call for a constitutional amendment allowing pre-existing counties to be reconstituted. If the General Assembly signs off on it, the amendment would require a statewide vote perhaps as soon as 2010. If Georgia voters approve it, then there would be an election in what would be Milton County. If north Fulton voters support it, then the Legislature would draft a charter. Then would begin the hard work of dividing the counties.
Jones sponsored a similar bill two years ago, but she and other backers sensed there wasn’t the appetite for a fight for a constitutional amendment, plus many legislators wanted to know what would be involved.
Lawmakers set up a study commission with Georgia State University and University of Georgia to delve into what would be entailed in jump-starting a new county, as well as dividing public property, debt and projects in the pipeline. That report is in its final stages.
The Republican ownership of the state House, Senate and governor’s office means that the re-creation of Milton County could find a receptive ear. Milton County would be largely conservative and Republican.
Supporters of re-creating Milton County argue that Fulton County is bloated, unresponsive and unfair in its allocation of resources and services. Opponents say it is the accusations that are unfair and that amputating the northern area would hurt Milton and Fulton counties.
Even with Republican dominance, re-creating another county is not a slam-dunk.
Some under the gold dome are disinclined to add another county to the 159 that exist. Others see it as another layer of government. Some question the feasiblity of the idea. And finally, there are those who worry how the divorce would affect Fulton County.
Supporters argue that it’s about creating a local government closer to the people, that would be more responsive and accountable.
Burkhalter, who believes the measure will be taken up by the House this session, also believes it will pass. “I have always felt the House would pass it,” said Burkhalter, speaker pro tem. “I believe the study will be complete, and we will have fulfilled a main requirement.”