Thursday, May 05, 2011

Cities focus on police audits in suit with Fulton.

By Patrick Fox
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Records provided to the city of Milton show Fulton County billed the city for hundreds of police shifts it did not fully staff.

Fulton sought $324,000 in reimbursements from the city for police patrols it provided soon after the city incorporated in 2006. Milton was able to knock it down to $110,000 in a settlement reached last month.

Milton’s case is part of a nearly $2 million squabble the county faces with three of its newest cities.

Still pending are similar suits the county has filed against Sandy Springs and Johns Creek to pay for emergency services rendered soon after those cities incorporated. The county wants $1.1 million from Sandy Springs and an additional $581,000 from Johns Creek.

In Milton, the records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show that Fulton did not provide a full three-man patrol for nearly half the shifts billed to the city during the months following its incorporation in December 2006.

Of the 453 shifts provided to the city from December through April, 221 were manned by two or fewer officers, the records show. Nine shifts had only one patrolman on duty.

The Fulton County Attorney’s Office would not comment on the settlement or pending litigation against the two other cities, all sued simultaneously in Fulton County State Court.

“We are pleased that we have moved past the Milton case and look forward to working with city leaders to serve residents as we move forward,” county spokeswoman Jessica Corbitt said.

But, in a September 2008 letter to the city of Milton, Fulton County Manager Zachary Williams wrote that the number of officers assigned to work in the city met the requirements of their agreement.

“Whenever an officer was unavailable to occupy one of the three beats, a supervisor or a traffic unit [depending on the shift] was assigned to assist with calls on the affected beat,”
Williams wrote. “In fact, there were many times when the number of officers working in Milton actually exceeded the number specified in the Police [agreement].”Milton City Attorney Ken Jarrard said the city always maintained the agreement was for three police shifts a day, with three officers on each shift or “beat.”

Ultimately, he said, a judge would have had to decide on the contract construction, “What does a ‘beat’ mean?”
Officials in Sandy Springs and Johns Creek are proceeding with their cases, both pursuing work documents.

Shortly after it incorporated in December 2005, Sandy Springs agreed to pay Fulton $593,400 per month for fire and EMS services from January through June and $647,565 per month for the remainder of the year.

Months later, Fulton notified the city that those charges were less than the actual costs for fire services and sent an additional bill for $2.4 million. The county lowered it to $1.1 million after city officials howled.

City Attorney Wendell Willard said Sandy Springs is conducting a forensic audit of the additional charges, but obtaining supporting documentation from Fulton has been slow. The audit will examine how Fulton’s expenses “became so far out of line from what was the recognized cost under the contract,” he said.

Fulton billed Johns Creek $12,864,000 for police services from Jan. 1, 2007, to Nov. 1, 2008, and for fire services from Jan. 1, 2007, to Oct. 7, 2008. The city paid all but $581,000 and says it won’t pay any more without documents backing up the charge.

“We’re still in the discovery phase of the lawsuit, and we’re asking them to provide us with X, Y and Z,”
City Manager John Kachmar said. “There’s been some difficulty in acquiring X, Y and Z.”

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