ALPHARETTA, Ga. – Candidates vying for the open Fulton County Commission seats met April 16 at a forum hosted by the Alpharetta Business Alliance. The primary election is May 20.
Held at Alpharetta City Hall, six of the seven candidates for District 2, District 3 and the at-large chairman’s seat fielded questions from the audience and local politicians about what they would do, if elected.
County Commissioner Liz Hausmann is running unopposed for her seat in District 3, which now covers North Fulton largely east of Ga. 400. Candidates Eric Broadwell and Bob Ellis are contending for the newly created District 2, which covers western North Fulton. The chairmanship, held by John Eaves currently, is county-wide, and Eaves has competition in Robb Pitts, also a sitting commissioner. Earl Cooper was absent for the forum.
Moderating the event and asking questions were Sen. Brandon Beach, Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle and Milton Mayor Joe Lockwood. Each candidate had two minutes to answer questions.
For the new District 2, the candidates were asked a slew of questions covering how they would address the problems in Fulton County.
The county passed a budget this year calling for a 15 percent tax hike on residents. Both Ellis and Broadwell said they would not have supported such a budget.
“I would work hardest not to put us in that scenario in the first place,” Ellis said. “I think it was improper… that tax increase was not necessary in the first place.”
The state legislature voted last year to bar Fulton from ever raising taxes, despite it having one of the lowest tax rates in the metro region. The budget is in defiance of this law.
“There is plenty of room in the budget to not require a tax increase,” Broadwell said.
He pointed to inconsistencies with funding Grady Health System at the level the budget calls for, along with giving county employees a raise.
In contrast, Eaves, when asked the same question, cautioned against a blanket approach to not raising taxes.
“Leadership is about making tough decisions,” he said. “From 1991 to 2013, we did not increase the tax rate. We have had $100 million in reductions over the years… [but] our back was against the wall.”
The alternative was to cut critical services, he said.
Pitts said the budget was a bad move.
“It’s illegal based on state legislation,” he said. “It’s thumbing our noses at the legislature.”
He contended the county has approved budgets for the past several years dipping into cash reserves. Pitts said this was not a balanced budget. Eaves disputed this.
Of course, one of the largest concerns is about spinning North Fulton off into a possible Milton County. Both Broadwell and Ellis said they were cautiously in support of such a move.
“A lot of things already operate independently,” Broadwell said. “But if it is to happen, you have to make Fulton fiscally healthy, standing on its own feet.”
He said taxes in south Fulton would likely increase substantially. The county will have to look at how best to approach that.
“We can’t have the same level of dysfunction that has existed,” Ellis said. “I’m for [Milton County] in concept. The reality does not look practical at this point. We have to deal with what we have right now and make the best of it.”
Eaves said he was against the “Balkanization” of Fulton County, saying it would only further hamper pushes for more regional fixes, such as MARTA and transportation.
“The real issue is a perceived lack of representation and a misalignment of resources,” he said. “Forty percent of Fulton County’s population is in North Fulton, but the resources allocated do not match up with the population. We need to close that gap.”
“There were legitimate concerns about the county government,” he said. “The new [commission] seat begins to address the issue of representation. You were underrepresented.”
Asked about overcrowding at the Fulton County Jail, Broadwell said Atlanta’s jail is only 20 percent used. The county at one point agreed to buy the center, however, the deal was put on hold.
“We need to acquire a facility that is already up to code and up to speed,” he said. “That would solve the issue right away.”
Ellis agreed the issue was a priority.
“We have to get this county from out beneath this consent order,” Ellis said, referring to a court order demanding Fulton fix outdated jail systems and overcrowding. “Being in a reactive mode has just served to cost us as taxpayers a lot of money. We have got to get this addressed.”
Fulton County Commissioner, District 2 candidates:
Fulton County Commissioner, District 3 candidates:
Liz Hausmann, running unopposed
Fulton County Chairman candidates:
John Eaves, incumbent
Earl L. Cooper
Primary election: May 20