As Fulton County makes more of an effort to communicate with its cities’ mayors and other officials on issues affecting them, the icy relationship between the mayors and the county’s board of commissioners may be thawing some.
That includes Fulton’s allocation of federal COVID-19 relief funds to the cities.
“We did hold a session with the finance representatives from the cities … Monday in an effort to ensure that if there were any questions about the process or the documentation requirements, they had an avenue to ask those questions,” county Chief Financial Officer Sharon Whitmore said. “We will continue to hold those meetings on a periodic basis until we disburse all the funds that remain.”
Whitmore was one of the officials to speak at the Fulton Board of Commissioners’ Oct. 2 special called meeting with the cities’ mayors, which was held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic. It was the second mayors’ meeting since the cities threatened to sue the county over their cities’ lack of federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds.
After the board voted in June to approve allocating only $2.5 million in CARES Act funds to 14 of Fulton’s 15 cities (Atlanta had already received $88 million directly from the feds), the cities threatened to sue because they felt they deserved closer to about 70% of the $104 million since 99% of the county is municipalized. So, the board approved adding $12.5 million to the cities at its Aug. 19 recess meeting.
However, since 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, they continued to threaten to sue.
After the board discussed doubling the funds to $30 million at its Sept. 2 meeting, it approved the extra $15 million at its Sept. 16 recess meeting. But that amount still wasn’t enough, said Johns Creek Mayor Mike Bodker, who is spearheading the cities’ efforts to get more money.
The cities are in talks with the state in an effort to get $30 million to $40 million more directly from the state, which received an additional $3.5 million from the feds, and $1.2 billion is set aside to help Georgia’s remaining municipalities.
The previous mayors’ meeting, which was held Aug. 28, was dominated by comments the mayors made criticizing commissioners about the county’s lack of communication with the cities and the small amount of CARES Act funds they received. This meeting was more cordial, with the mayors’ main complaints concerning Fulton’s preparation for the Nov. 3 general election.
At the meeting Whitmore outlined the county’s breakdown of distributing CARES Act funds to the cities, which is $25 million plus $5 million in personal protective equipment. Based on population, the disbursement is as follows: Alpharetta: $2.8 million, Chattahoochee Hills: $138,430; College Park: $632,446; East Point: $1.4 million; Fairburn: $699,575; Hapeville: $272,604; Johns Creek: $3.5 million; Milton: $1.7 million; Mountain Park: $23,697; Palmetto: $202,388; Roswell: $4.0 million; Sandy Springs: $4.6 million; South Fulton: $4.1 million; and Union City: $934,505.
Also at the meeting, County Manager Dick Anderson said Fulton separately allocated $2.5 million in CARES Act funds to a nonprofit offering emergency assistance for Atlanta residents, so the county is drafting a letter to Atlanta officials to request reimbursement for those funds.
Of the reimbursement, College Park Mayor Bianca Motley Broom asked, “If the money is received is there an opportunity for (the 14 cities) to be part of the conversation?”
Robb Pitts, the board chair, replied, “I would say yes, I would make that commitment.”
At the end of the meeting, Bodker offered some suggestions to the board and other county officials regarding future mayors’ meetings. He and Chattahoochee Hills Mayor Tom Reed are regularly communicating with Pitts on Fulton issues impacting the 14 cities.
“I think we can come to a better way to come to an agenda that is mutually agreeable to create better dialogue throughout the meeting,” Bodker said. “I certainly appreciate we had a lot of catch-up to do, based on the requests of some of the mayors made.
“But if we’re to make these meetings productive, I think it needs to include agenda items that are being included both from the mayors and from the county commission, and that we probably do a lot less presenting and a lot more talking.”
Pitts said the next mayors’ meeting is scheduled for Nov. 6.