But county must OK how funds are spent.
By Patrick Fox and Johnny Edwards
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Trying to avert a legal battle over two northern cities’ leftover taxes, Fulton Commissioner Robb Pitts came up with a solution Wednesday that placated leaders in one city, but not in the other.
Johns Creek and Milton taxpayers will get back the combined $221,000 that’s been sitting idle in the county’s coffers, but it will come through the county, spent for some purpose mutually agreed to by each city’s council and the commission. Commissioners approved Pitts’ plan 4-3.
While Milton Mayor Joe Lockwood said he’s satisfied with the outcome, Johns Creek Mayor Mike Bodker still predicts litigation.
“I believe that while Commissioner Pitts has the best of intentions trying to mediate a tough situation, I still believe what he is introducing is illegal,” Bodker said. “I’m confident if the county enacts this, there will be a lawsuit involved.”It was the second time the commission voted to move the money into the general fund. In October the board voted 6-1 — north Fulton Commissioner Liz Hausmann dissenting — to use it for the good of the entire county, which infuriated Northside leaders and regalvanized the movement to break off Milton County.
However, because of a stipulation County Attorney David Ware inserted into Pitts’ motion, the first vote only covered interest earned off the funds, about $13,200.
The money in question came from taxes levied before the two cities formed in late 2006, when they were still part of the unincorporated county and paid a special tax rate for municipal-type services such as police, fire protection, parks and planning. But the money was not received until 2008 and later, through things such as delinquent tax payments and taxes paid after assessment appeals were settled.
The general fund is for countywide functions, such as courts, the jail, libraries, senior centers and health services.
Leaders on both sides of the debate questioned whether mixing the two is permissible under state law and service agreements.
“It ain’t right, it ain’t never happened before,” said Commissioner William “Bill” Edwards, who first raised the issue of the $221,000 in an effort to move it to cash-strapped unincorporated south Fulton, in his district. “But if y’all want to break the law, go ahead.”
Milton was dead-set against Pitts’ proposal earlier in the week, its council adopting a letter formally opposing the measure. But Lockwood and City Manager Chris Lagerbloom, who both sat through Wednesday’s meeting, came around after Hausmann inserted the stipulation that city councils must agree on how the money gets spent.
“You can either be right, or you can be happy,” Lagerbloom said after the vote. “I think we were right, but the end result is the same.”
What the money will be used for is undetermined. Lagerbloom said a county-owned fire station in Milton could use some work. He said he would prefer it not go toward decontaminating county-owned Providence Park, since funds for that have already been allocated.
Hausmann said moving the money might still prompt a lawsuit. She said she voted in favor, though, so it will get spent in the communities where it was collected.
Pitts said he thinks a judge would understand what the commission was trying to do.
“This is a very, very unique situation,” he said, “that we may never be faced with again.”