By DOUG NURSE / www.ajc.com
Saturday, September 13, 2008
Milton and Fulton County are wrangling over $1.02 million — a considerable sum for a city with a $19 million budget.
The money, leftover taxes from before the city came into being, is tied up in a dispute over who’s responsible for cleaning up a polluted park Milton inherited from the county.
The county cleaned it up, but used contested tax money to do it. The city says the problem was created by the county before the city was formed, so the cleanup should be paid for by the county.
County officials argue the park is in the Milton area and it’s not unreasonable for some of the cost to be borne by the city.
City and county officials have been meeting and trading letters, but no resolution has been reached.
“We may need the Legislature or the court to get involved,” said City Manager Billy Beckett. “Hopefully, we can negotiate something.”
County Commissioner Lynne Riley said that, even if an agreement were reached, the County Commission settled the issue in July when it approved withholding some of the money from the city. Riley sided with the city on that vote. “I have told city officials that I thought this would be a valid use of the court system,” she said. “There is no will on the part of the majority of the board to take further action.”
The Milton area incorporated Dec. 1, 2006. Before then, the county collected taxes from the Milton community and put them into a special fund that could only be spent in Milton. The same arrangement was created for Johns Creek.
Riley said the money was supposed to be spent before the cities were actually launched.
When that didn’t happen, the county ended up having excess money, and Milton and Johns Creek wasted no time in saying they wanted it back.
The county was amenable but said it lacked a way to do it legally, a problem solved when the Legislature created a new law in the 2008 session.
Johns Creek received a check for $2.7 million, which it promptly put in reserves.
Milton received a $4.18 million check but believed it was entitled to $5.3 million to $5.4 million.
The county said its math showed the city at most was entitled to $5.1 million because some taxes were paid by the residents who ended up in Roswell and Alpharetta. Milton agreed.
Then the county further deducted $1.02 million for remediation of Providence Park, and the city cried foul.
The park, which was closed in 2004, was an unofficial storage site for road construction materials that leaked pollutants into the ground.
Cleaning up the park cost about $1.02 million, which ultimately was paid from the special fund set up for Milton.
Mayor Joe Lockwood said the city could use the money.
“I would like to spend some on parks and the Milton Trail, and split some on road improvements,” Lockwood said.