By DOUG NURSE
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Thursday, March 05, 2009
Supporters of a re-created Milton County say a recent study shows the county would be viable.
The report, released Tuesday by the Georgia State University Fiscal Research Center and the University of Georgia Carl Vinson Institute of Government, will invigorate debate over a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow previously existing counties to be resurrected.
Milton County advocates quickly seized on the report to bolster their claims that north Fulton County residents and businesses would be better off without Fulton County.
“The bottom line is this shows Milton County would be fiscally viable,” said Fulton County Commissioner Lynne Riley from Johns Creek. Although a member of the commission, she supports re-creation of Milton County.
Johns Creek Mayor Mike Bodker, also past chairman of the North Fulton Municipal Association, said he wasn’t surprised at the report’s findings. “The report starts to lay out the case that Milton County makes sense,” he said. “It confirms what we’ve thought all along.”
Opponents of the plan counter that criticism of Fulton County is overblown and that dividing up duties, debts and obligations would a long and expensive process. They say it would hurt the rest of Fulton County financially.
“We feel that this [proposal] is bad public policy and would be very troubling for the metro Atlanta economy,” wrote Fulton County Commission Chairman John H. Eaves in an editorial Tuesday in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
According to the GSU-UGA report, Milton County would take in $209 million in revenue at the current tax rate, and have between $133 million and $148 million in expenses, based on surrounding counties recent costs.
The new county would have to manage its share of long-term debt, $303 million; unfunded pensions of $75 million, as well as leases. Furnishing and starting up the county would cost $4.3 million.
The report did not resolve such issues as reimbursement for Fulton County facilities, court costs and jail expenses. It says many complicated legal issues would have to resolved for which there is no precedent.
A struggling, rural Milton County merged with Fulton County to the south in 1932. Since then, what is now northern Fulton County has blossomed with high-end residential developments, class A office space, and malls and shopping centers.
Backers of Milton County, which would include Sandy Springs, Milton, Johns Creek, Mountain Park, Roswell and Alpharetta, say they are under-represented and poorly served by Fulton County, and could provide services on their own cheaper and more efficiently. They also argue they north Fulton County subsidizes the southern part of the county.