With all of Fulton County’s 15 cities, except Atlanta, which got its own funds, threatening to sue the county over its distribution of $104 million in federal COVID-19 relief monies the county received, Fulton continues to make progress in giving the cities closer to their fair share.
Originally the county was going to distribute only $2.5 million total to the cities, approving that amount at the board's June 3 meeting, before the lawsuit threat prompted the board of commissioners to approve adding $12.5 million to the cities at its Aug. 19 recess meeting.
The cities’ mayors have said the allocation of federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds was supposed to be $174.79 per resident in each city, and the $15 million would equal only $25.03.
“(In) fairness for our cities, we did increase funds,” District 6 Fulton Commissioner Joe Carn said at the board’s Sept. 2 meeting. “I think it was a good step. In my opinion we have a ways to go. A $25 per person allotment is still not enough for our cities. Obviously, we’ll not hit the $174 per-person mark for all cities. We’re looking at a $50 mark, which would put us at $30 million. The only criteria for this funding was, point blank, population.”
But at its Sept. 2 meeting, which was held virtually due to the pandemic, the board only discussed the idea of doubling the funding to $30 million and did not vote on the increase.
However, the board did discuss ways it plans to improve its relations with the cities. The progress came after the board hosted an Aug. 28 special called meeting with the mayors, the first one they’d had since before the outbreak started. Also, board Chair Robb Pitts, County Manager Dick Anderson and other county leaders met with some of the mayors again Sept. 1.
“Following the mayors meeting Aug. 28, the cities made four requests: transparency, communication, limitations on spending and additional resources,” Anderson said. “We have offered a monthly and/or quarterly meeting with the mayors. Monthly appears to be the preference, especially with COVID-19 response, but also with transportation, plus with wastewater and (related issues) in south Fulton.”
Anderson also said the county would include the cities’ city managers on its weekly call with Matt Kallmyer, director of the Atlanta-Fulton County Emergency Management Agency, on the twice weekly phone calls he has with county staff regarding updates on COVID-19 relief efforts.
Pitts said the cities’ mayors would be provided with an agenda each Friday prior to the board meetings and the minutes of the meeting afterwards.
“The easiest (issue) to fix is the communication one,” he said. Carn added, “Communication with our mayors is paramount at this time.”
Also at the meeting, Fulton officials and consultants provided an update on the county’s COVID-19 response. Consultant Doug Schuster of Emergency Management Services International, an emergency management firm working with Fulton, said the county’s recent decrease in virus data brings optimism.
“Since we last met Aug. 19, the seven-day average of cases has dropped significantly from 245 to 152,” he said. “Our seven-day average for hospitalizations from 8.6 to 6.4%, and deaths dropped from 6.1% to 4.0%. Hospitalizations went from a seven-day average of 430, with a high of 600, down to 330, overnight number was 320. This includes the GWCC’s 60-bed addition.”
However, Schuster added, Georgia ranks fourth in the nation in the infection rate.
Dr. Lynn Paxton, Fulton’s district health director, said the free COVID-19 testing site at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport the county partnered with federal and state governments to open Aug. 10 won’t close until Sept. 11, 16 days after it originally was going to shut down.
Even though the county crossed the 500,000-test mark Sept. 1, Schuster said he’s concerned about the recent decline in the number of residents getting tested daily.
“Testing capacity is 8,300 per day (countywide), but testing demand is only 38.3%. Results are coming back in less than 48 hours on average,” he said.
Paxton asked everyone watching the meeting to get their flu shot, since flu season starts in October and could exacerbate the pandemic.
“I want to put into context the data you’ve heard today,” she said. “On one hand, we’ve seen some very good trends. But part of my role is to be the Debbie Downer … who has to put out certain warnings. I have been doing this for 30 years, and what is well known is this is one of the most critical times to be in. Once you see improvements, it’s the most dangerous period for a relapse.”