By Johnny Edwards
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
North Fulton residents regularly complain of their tax dollars being siphoned to the southern part of the county, but because of an oversight south Fulton residents can say the same thing about a contaminated park in Milton.
For the past five years, the South Fulton Special Services District been paying for grounds maintenance at the shuttered, 42-acre Providence Park in Fulton's northernmost city. The tab totals $12,500, paid for out of the extra tax rate unincorporated property owners pay for city-type services, such as police and fire protection. All county park maintenance is funded by the special service districts; parks within city limits are funded by that city.
The discrepancy has reignited arguments over whether the county should pay more than $1 million for environmental cleanup, then hand the park over to the city. Milton expects eventually to buy it for $100 per acre, the same deal given to all newly-formed cities for park space since the mid-2000s.
But south Fulton Commissioner William "Bill" Edwards said that since pollution closed the park before Milton's incorporation, it should be sold as surplus property.
"It's not a park," Edwards said. "That's where the confusion is."
If sold at fair market value, buying Providence could cost the city millions. The county tax assessors office values it at $6.2 million.
“The city of Milton has no independent knowledge of any change of position of Fulton County regarding Providence Park," City Manager Chris Lagerbloom said in an email. "It is the city’s expectation that once the environmental remediation of Providence Park is completed, that Fulton County will make good on its repeated commitment to convey the park to the city at the previously established price.”
According to Lisa Carter of the county manager's office, Providence remains in Fulton's parks inventory, so parks maintenance crews assumed mowing the grass and securing it was still their responsibility. The property has been closed to the public since 2004, when tests found lead, chromium, petroleum byproducts and other contaminants in soil near a walking path.
Before the land became a park in 1972, it was an unofficial storage site during a county road-building project. It turned out buried drums had been leaking toxic chemicals into the soil.
Milton incorporated in 2006, joining Sandy Springs and Johns Creek. Those areas had been paying into the special services district, too, and state legislation passed in 2008 required the county to cut refund checks to Milton and Johns Creek for unspent taxes. Amid much haggling over what to do about the polluted park, the county withheld $1.02 million from Milton for environmental remediation.
State Rep. Lynne Riley, R-Johns Creek, said she agrees with Edwards that south Fulton residents shouldn't have been paying for park maintenance in Milton.
Edwards put a stop to it earlier this month, telling County Manager Zachary Williams he wants the $12,500 refunded.
However, Riley said she doesn't agree with Edwards that Providence shouldn't be sold to Milton as a park. If the county takes that position, she said, it should return Milton's $1.02 million.