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Fulton County’s future: A Milton County revival

by Jan Jones

July 26, 2007

The cities of Johns Creek and Milton have just celebrated their first birthday. Sandy Springs has just turned two.

While many are grateful for the newfound independence that city hood has brought to North Fulton, most residents north of the city of Atlanta still long for autonomy from Fulton County government.

That's why we at the state Capitol have launched a comprehensive initiative to examine how to recreate what was once Milton County.

In the 2008 state budget, which kicked off July 1, legislators dedicated $400,000 for a study by Georgia State University and the University of Georgia to lay the foundation of how we recreate our county that existed for almost 75 years.

The study will determine what it will take to recreate Milton County from the rest of Fulton and regain our sovereignty as it was prior to the merger of the two counties in 1932 due to the Great Depression.

The review will look at everything from services needed in the county to the impact on local property taxes. But what makes this most exciting is the recreation of Milton will give us an opportunity to charter new territory when it comes to county governance in this state.

Just as was done in the new cities, we have the opportunity to change the model for counties by embracing privatization and limiting services offered by the county. After the disaster we have seen in downtown Atlanta with Fulton's government, we know there are many things county government shouldn't be in the business of doing.

There is an opportunity for Milton County to set an example for Georgia's other 159 counties on how to deliver services in a more effective manner or to re-examine what is really necessary.

Look at just a few of the crazy decisions by Fulton officials in recent years and you will understand the widespread support for independence and why there must be a dramatic new approach to the role of county government.

For example:

Fanplex. The Atlanta-Fulton County Recreation Authority spent $2.5 million on this entertainment facility next to Turner Field in Downtown Atlanta then lost another $500,000 in operational costs. It closed its doors in 2004 after just two years in operation.

County Jail. The deterioration of the Fulton County Jail and the resignation of former Sheriff Jackie Barrett under a cloud of suspicion related to jail operations and investments of public funds.

Millions of taxpayer dollars have been spent on judicial oversight of the jail as well as handling of the former sheriff's case. The jail is still not operating up to par.

Tax Assessors Board. The implosion of the county's Board of Tax Assessors and the inability of the county to accurately appraise property. As a result, residents of North Fulton have had no confidence in the appraisals of their homes and the resulting tax bills imposed by Fulton officials.

Cell phone abuse. A story last week by The Atlanta Business Chronicle detailed how 1,400 Fulton employees have been issued cell phones costing the county $1.6 million in 2006.

Many of those employees have been running up overage charges, some using 9,000 minutes a month, and most of that for personal use. That is costing tens of thousands of dollars annually.

The worst thing you can do for a struggling, dysfunctional person is continue to make excuses for their behavior and cover up their mistakes. Such is the case with Fulton County government.

If we can return autonomy to North Fulton, it just might help the rest of Fulton County clean up its act, reorganize its government and regain credibility. And those alive during the days of Milton County will be able to see it rise again as an example for the rest of Georgia.

Jones, a Republican member of the Georgia House, represents District 46 including parts of Roswell, Alpharetta and the new city of Milton.