Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Cityhood first step toward fleeing Fulton
Backers say 'political tide' favors county breakup
By ANNA VARELAThe Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 07/23/06

For the leaders who helped forge two new cities in north Fulton County, success at the polls Tuesday was just one step toward a much bigger goal — breaking off a large swath of north Fulton to form an independent county.
They are targeting 2008 for a serious push to create the county of Milton, taking in all of the land from Sandy Springs to the north, and complete with its own school system.
Rep. Mark Burkhalter (R-Alpharetta) said he thinks most voters who went to the polls in unincorporated north Fulton on Tuesday knew they were doing more than voting on cityhood.
"I think people generally understand that this is a first step toward true and complete independence," said Burkhalter, who has introduced bills several times in the past to try to carve out a new county.
Milton County boosters have several big legal and political hurdles to clear:
• The Georgia Constitution caps the number of counties at the current 159.
• The state constitution also states, "No independent school system shall hereafter be established."
• Supporters of MARTA and Grady Memorial Hospital — both funded largely by tax dollars from Fulton and DeKalb counties — would probably fight any move that could take a large, wealthy area out of their tax base.
• The Fulton County school board also wouldn't be likely to sit back and watch some of its richest communities and highest-achieving schools defect from the system.
Milton County supporters say they are studying ways to get around these issues.
"The hurdles are only as high as the politics," said Burkhalter, speaker pro tem of the House. "The reality is it's not an easy process but it's certainly one that can be achieved given the political tide that's changed."
That "political tide" is a reference to Republican control of the Legislature.
The Republican majority made it possible for supporters of the city of Sandy Springs to get a vote on incorporation last year, after decades of being foiled by Democrats representing Fulton County's interests. The creation of Sandy Springs, which started operations
Jan. 1, has given hope to others in north Fulton.
The area will gain two more cities — Johns Creek in the northeast and Milton in the northwest.
Johns Creek will have a population of a little more than 62,000 and Milton will have about 20,000 residents. Add Alpharetta (about 35,000) and Sandy Springs (roughly 86,000) and some say that's plenty of people to support a new county.
In fact, more than 70 years ago, Milton was an independent county with Alpharetta as its seat. But it struggled financially during the Great Depression. In 1932, it merged with Campbell County and they were absorbed into Fulton, creating the current, oddly-shaped boundaries.
Many in north Fulton argue that it's past time to break off from a county government with a reputation for scandal in the Sheriff's Department, at the jail and in the tax assessor's office.
As for the schools, Rep. Jan Jones (R-Alpharetta) issued an open letter a few months ago voicing her support for incorporating the Milton area and working toward a new county. "A separate county would mean a highly focused, scaled-down local school system, one that could more efficiently and effectively serve north Fulton students' needs and desires," Jones wrote.
Reagan Ferguson, who runs a plant nursery and lives in the area that will become the city of Milton, said that forming a new county is a logical next step.
"I think it makes perfect sense," Ferguson said. "One reason it should work up here is there's a rather wealthy tax base."
And residents of north Fulton don't feel like they have much in common with residents of the south end of the county, he said. "You don't talk about Fulton County. You talk about north or south Fulton."
Northside resident Thomas Mulroy agreed.
"The thing everyone wants is a county of our own," said Mulroy, 40, who case his ballot Tuesday in favor of cityhood. "We want to control our schools, our parks, zoning. This is a first step."
Staff writer Doug Nurse contributed to this article.


Anonymous said...

While we supported the idea of incorporating the City of Milton in order to bring home some local control, I disagree with the idea of breaking away from Fulton County entirely. Because the general opinion of Milton-backers seems to be the opposite, I thought I would take the opportunity to express a dissenting view.

I have lived in Fulton County since I was seven years old. I attended the only racially balanced Fulton County high school (North Springs) and received an excellent education in an environment that encouraged students to branch out beyond their socioeconomic and racial status to meet new peers. The MAGNET programs in science and the arts brought me into contact with students from all parts of the county, even as far away as Creekside in the extreme southwest corner of the county.

Despite growing up in Sandy Springs, a relatively affluent community in comparison to the rest of the county, I was not isolated in a high-income echelon like east Cobb or south Forsyth. I believe that I benefited from being part of a school system with diverse needs and commitments.

Breaking away from Fulton County has always struck me as a spiteful notion, in a way signifying the collective turning of our backs on the municipal unit that bailed out Milton County seventy years ago. I think it’s silly to suggest that we “owe” Fulton County for its willingness to absorb the area in the past, but I do think that we should acknowledge the fact that without the City of Atlanta, we would more than likely not be here.

With incorporation, we will now wield control of our own parks, police and fire services, and other important municipal functions. However, if we withdraw our support from Fulton County Schools, the system with fail its students in the southern end of the county even more than it presently does. Some of you may say that’s not our problem, but I disagree. A better educated metro region attracts more jobs for us all. A better educated metro Atlanta prevents more crime.

In short, I would prefer my city to be well-rounded—to have opportunity dispersed throughout rather than concentrated in just a few lucky places. North Fulton schools are already among the best in the state. To suggest that the already lavish infrastructure of Milton High School should be improved by siphoning revenue away from South Fulton schools is short-sighted and selfish. On some levels, we must function as city. On other levels, we function as a county, a region, or a state.

As we continue to reform municipal organization in metro Atlanta, we must search for a proper balance between local control and regional unity that continues to push the city toward the forefront of economic growth. Too much balkanization leads to the exacerbation of wealth inequality, and that hurts the region as a whole.

Just a thought from a new Milton resident.

Mike Lynch

Anonymous said...

Nobody gives a crap what you think Mike. Go blow yourself.