By Jim Tharpe
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
A controversial proposal that could lead to the re-creation of Milton County out of what is now north Fulton County could be voted on by the state House of Representatives in a week.
The proposal, HR 21, won approval from the State Planning and Community Affairs Committee on Thursday by a 9-7 vote, clearing the way for its consideration by the House Rules Committee and the full House next week.
Pushed by House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones (R-Milton), the resolution would put the Milton County proposal on the November ballot in the form of a constitutional amendment. If that passed, residents in the proposed county would still have to approve the plan.
But the road to the November ballot is a long one. Proponents would need a two-thirds vote in the House, meaning Republican backers would need to pick up 15 Democratic votes, an uphill task for any piece of legislation in the partisan chamber. And if it passed the House, it would have to pick up a handful of Democratic votes in the Senate.
“They have some very steep hurdles to overcome to get this on the ballot,” said state Rep. Billy Mitchell (D-Stone Mountain), who opposes the proposal.
Proponents, however, point out that they overcame similar obstacles with the creation of the cities of Johns Creek and Sandy Springs in recent years.
Milton and Campbell counties were merged with Fulton County during the Great Depression as a cost-cutting move. Since then, however, northern Fulton’s population has exploded. Some north Fulton residents contend that the county's Board of Commissioners has become increasingly unresponsive to their needs and an inefficient steward of their tax dollars.
Opponents of a re-created Milton County argue that dividing Fulton County would hurt Atlanta and the entire region. Some opponents have alleged that race is an underlying motivation for the proposal -- south Fulton is predominately black, while north Fulton is majority white.
Supporters of the new county have steadfastly denied any racial motivation, contending their primary aim is a more efficient county government closer to the people it serves.
Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves on Thursday called the 1932 merger of Fulton with Milton and Campbell counties a “marriage” that Milton County proponents are trying to tear apart.
“This divorce would have a disastrous impact on all parties involved,” Eaves said. “It’s a lose-lose situation.”
But Roswell Mayor Jere Wood said during the committee hearing that divorce is sometimes necessary. In this case, he said, it might cause some short-term pain, but the long-term benefits would be worth it.
“The divorce is because it’s not working out,” said Wood, a major backer of Milton County whose city would be within its boundaries. “I see irreconcilable differences.”