In an effort to get closer to their fair share of the $104 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds Fulton County received, all but one of the county’s cities are seeking from the state up to $40 million more than the $30 million they already got from Fulton.
At its June 3 meeting, the county’s board of commissioners approved allocating only $2.5 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds to 14 of Fulton’s 15 cities (Atlanta had already received $88 million directly from the feds).
But after the cities threatened to sue the county because they felt they deserved closer to about 70% of the $104 million since 99% of the county is municipalized, the board approve 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.
“We feel that if we had been negotiated on the front end of this, it would not have been unreasonable to get $60 million to $70 million,” he said. “Obviously (I’m) recognizing Fulton has big functions that are important, but to receive less than 30% is unacceptable. We only received $25 million in cash and up to $5 million in PPE (personal protective equipment).
“… Fulton screws all citizens equally. All of us got screwed equally.”
Bodker said since the county has given all it will to the cities, their mayors are seeking the remaining funds from the state, which has some leftover federal monies it could dole out to those cities.
An email sent to Cody Hall, a spokesman for Gov. Brian Kemp’s office, seeking comment on the negotiations, was not returned.
Bodker said the cities started talking to the state before Fulton doubled the cities’ CARES Act funding to $30 million.
“We’re asking the state for as much as we can get to make up for what we couldn’t get from the county,” he said. “We knew we weren’t going to get anywhere with Fulton. I certainly feel happy we were able to get from $2.5 million to $25 million (not including the PPE) when the county said we’d only get $10 million max, but that demonstrated a lack of voracity for the truth, on top of their grasp of the truth. But with the threat of a lawsuit, you can get a little more done.”
Bodker said Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties, the most populous in the state, were the only ones in the state to get CARES Act funds directly from the feds, and the cities within those counties had to negotiate with the counties for their share of the pot. But unlike the other three counties, Fulton is almost completely municipalized, so he believes the county’s cities deserve more.
“As I told my (city) council, you should assume this is the only money you’re going to get, though I believe it’s the right thing to do and I’ve implored the state to do so on behalf of our cities,” Bodker said of the federal funds Johns Creek and other cities have already received.
“At this point, as the clock continues to run, while we would gladly accept the money. But the deadline (to spend the funds) is Dec. 31.
“The state has advanced money to each city where it’s a direct reimbursement for 70% and the other 30% you would turn in (receipts for reimbursement) through the state’s portal.”
He also said the county’s lack of communication with the cities and unfair treatment regarding the CARES Act funds has soured the mayors’ relationship with the board of commissioners.
In an interview after the Sept. 16 meeting where the extra $15 million was approved, District 3 Fulton Commissioner Lee Morris talked about the situation.
“As I said publicly before, we should have been talking to the cities a long time ago,” he said. “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.”
At the commissioners’ Aug. 28 special called meeting with the mayors, the first such meeting they’d had since before the pandemic, Bodker and several other mayors criticized the county for how it handled the issue.
“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,” East Point Mayor Deana Holiday Ingraham 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.”
Since then the commissioners have pledged to communicate with the mayors and other city officials as often as weekly.
Bodker said the mayors’ relationship with commissioners was strong in 2015 and 2015, when they negotiated the allocation of the county’s transportation special-purpose local option sales tax (TSPLOST) funds but worsened after some new commissioners took office starting in 2017.
Another virtual mayors’ meeting with commissioners has been tentatively scheduled for Oct. 2, but he said the mayors may not attend it because of the ongoing CARES Act funding issue.
“This is one of those issues (where) the way the county has acted, it has damaged relations with the cities for quite a while,” Bodker said. “I predict it will be years before we regain the kind of relationship we had coming out of TPLOST.”