Fulton approves doubling COVID funds for cities

The cities seeking a fairer share of $104 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds from Fulton County finally got their wish.

They will receive $30 million, more than 10 times the amount the county originally planned to give them before the cities threatened to sue Fulton over the issue. The number is double what Fulton had already approved for the cities.

“I think it’s a good move,” District 3 Fulton Commissioner Lee Morris said. “As I said publicly before, we should have been talking to the cities a long time ago. Now we’re trying to figure out how to best share the decisions for the funding. I hope this will be something we can all work on together.”

Morris spoke in an interview after the county board of commissioners’ Sept. 16 recess meeting where it voted 7-0 to approve an extra $15 million in the cities’ federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds.

The vote came after the board met in executive session, in which municipal governments can meet in private to discuss real estate, legal and/or personnel matters, because the 14 of the county’s 15 cities had threatened to sue the county over the funds’ distribution, Morris said. Atlanta received $88 million directly from the feds and was not involved in the lawsuit.

The cities’ mayors have said the allocation of the CARES Act funds was supposed to be $174.79 per resident in each city, and the $15 million would equal only $25.03.

Originally the county was going to distribute only $2.5 million total to the cities, approving that amount at its June 3 meeting, before the lawsuit threat prompted the board to approve adding $12.5 million to the cities at its Aug. 19 recess meeting. The board discussed upping the funds to $30 million at its Sept. 2 meeting but did not vote on the issue.

At the Sept. 16 meeting, Fulton Chief Financial Officer Sharon Whitmore said $2.3 million of the $15 million already allocated to the cities has been paid to reimburse them for coronavirus-related expenses. She added a second round of reimbursement requests from the cities was sent to the county in the first week in September.

After the meeting, Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul said he was still “not pleased” with the distribution of funds to Fulton’s cities.

“While I’m glad they raised the amounts going to the cities, I’m disappointed that the commission didn’t allocate the funds as Congress and the governor intended,” he said. “Fulton County is 99% municipalized, and while an increase, the funds are inadequate to cover the mounting costs Fulton cities are experiencing in fighting the pandemic.

“The county still has not provided the city-by-city expenditure breakout promised, and the lack of coordination by the county with the cities means these funds are not being expended in the most effective, efficient manner.”

In other COVID-19-related news, Doug Schuster of Emergency Management Services International, an emergency management firm working with Fulton, said he’s “encouraged” with the decline in county virus cases but cautiously optimistic.

Schuster said the county’s seven-day average of cases had dropped from 400 on July 24 to 87 on Sept. 14. He added Fulton’s percent positives have declined from 16% on July 12 to 5.1% on Sept. 14, and the county’s seven-day average of hospitalizations plummeted from 600 on July 23 to 209 on Sept. 15.

Officials who provided updates on Fulton’s COVID-19 response said they’re concerned the county could see a spike in cases if some Labor Day weekend events caused the virus to spread, but they haven’t yet seen data to support that possibility.

Furthermore, the county has seen a decline in the number of residents getting tested for the virus, so it’s possible there won’t be increases in cases like the ones that came after the Memorial Day and July 4 holiday weekends.

“Testing demand has decreased over the past weeks,” said Matt Kallmyer, director of the Atlanta-Fulton County Emergency Management Agency. “We’re still trying to figure out why. We’re working with our partners to educate people on getting tested.”

Dr. Lynn Paxton, Fulton’s district health director, who wants to see more residents get tested, added, “Everyone is absolutely thrilled the COVID rates have been going down, but I want to put it all in context. One is this is generally the case with respiratory illnesses. The end of the summer is the peak lowest time for the seasonal flu and garden variety cold. So we’re not out of the woods yet.”

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