Johns Creek Mayor Mike Bodker is joining the rest of the mayors of Fulton County’s cities, except Atlanta, in standing up for their fair share of $104 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds the county received, even threatening to sue Fulton.
“My hope is we can come to a better understanding both on the use of the funds and the allocation,” he said, referring to the $15 million the county has allocated to the cities thus far. “Just to let you know, the allocation was supposed to be $174.79 per citizen (in each city/community countywide). This ($15 million) would give $25.03 per citizen, if my calculations are correct.”
The city of Atlanta has already received its own funds ($88 million) directly from the feds. The other cities were due to receive only $2.5 million total in reimbursement monies for pandemic-related expenses they’ve incurred, as its share of the county’s $104 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds, which the Fulton Board of Commissioners approved at its June 3 meeting.
But that number jumped to about $15 million when the board voted Aug. 19 to add another $13 million, after the board heard about the possible lawsuit. Still, it’s not enough, Bodker and other mayors said at a special called meeting the board hosted Aug. 28 to address the issue. Held virtually due to the outbreak, it was the first mayors meeting the county has had since the pandemic started in March.
“We understand when the county got the $104 million (this spring), they were not informed the county was supposed to share it with the cities,” Bodker said, then referring to a letter County Attorney Patrise Perkins-Hooker sent to each city attorney explaining how and why the county allocated those funds (a copy is to the left). “Patrise, I appreciate your letter. Transparency and education are the keys to curing this problem now. I have probably spoken more with our mayors now than when we talked about the TSPLOST (in 2016).”
Some of the other mayors who spoke at the meeting said the letter was condescending to the mayors and their cities, adding it exacerbated a situation in which the county has already had little communication with the cities on the issue, leading to the lawsuit threat.
“I was disappointed by the letter from the county attorney because it was disheartening and almost a reprimand on what we’re going to do,” Union City Mayor Vince Williams said. “A lot of that was rumors and when you react to rumors, you say and do things you can’t take back. We are better than this.”
Fairburn Mayor Carr-Hurst added, “It’s a slap in the face for us to get only $25 per citizen. If you had used Fulton County’s (unincorporated) population, you would not have gotten over $700,000. Chairman (Robb Pitts) and the board, please go back into session and figure out a way to allocate more (funds). This $15 million, we can’t live with this.”
Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul said because of the lack of communication and coordination between the cities and counties, there may be some overlap on the COVID-19 relief services each government paid for.
“This unwillingness to talk to us is astounding me because it may end up wasting a lot of resources,” he said, adding the board under Pitts’ leadership has not communicated as well with the mayors as his predecessor, John Eaves, did. “I have asked you to bring us together at least quarterly, and this is what happens when we’re not getting together so often.”
East Point Mayor Deana Holiday Ingraham said the mayors raised the funding issue as soon as the pandemic started and the county got its federal funds, but her city has received “zero dollars and zero cents” thus far.
“The $25 per person per city is crumbs, not the $174.79 we were supposed to get and not the same amount other cities in other counties got,” she said. “And the county originally promising one thing and then saying, ‘Oh, we changed our mind,’ that is unacceptable. That is not what we asked for.”
Roswell Mayor Lori Henry said she read a recent AJC article stating Brookhaven, a city of about 55,000 residents, is expected to get $6.3 million in CARES Act funds from DeKalb County.
“Why is it that DeKalb County can be more equitable with its cities and (Fulton) County cannot?” Henry said.
Commissioners Liz Hausmann and Lee Morris, former Johns Creek and Atlanta city council members, respectively, apologized for the lack of communication from the county, especially given their backgrounds.
Morris and Commissioner Marvin Arrington Jr. said the county incorrectly assumed the cities would get some funding separately from the state. Arrington said Fulton had to act quickly to disperse its federal monies since there were deadlines that had to be met.
“There’s plenty of blame to go around, but as Commissioner Hausmann said, we need to communicate better,” he said.
When asked by Williams what he thought of the mayors’ comments at the meeting, Pitts said, “I want to review everything we have heard today. The seven of us (board members) are taking it to heart.”
The board is expected to approve more CARES Act funding for the cities at its next meeting Sept. 2. Ingraham said the county could allocate another $28 million in funds to the cities.
In the meantime, all the cities’ reimbursement requests are required to be submitted to the county by Nov. 15, Jessica Corbitt, a Fulton spokeswoman, said. Round one of cities’ reimbursements is coming Sept. 1, and the monthly reimbursements are due by the fifth of each month.