LEGISLATIVE PREVIEW: Jan Jones wants Fulton County reform

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The 2013 legislative session kicked off to a productive start for North Fulton representatives and senators. We are intently focused on our No. 1 priority this session: reforming Fulton County so that it better serves its citizens.

Fulton stretches across 80 miles and encompasses almost one million residents. It takes efficient, fiscally responsible decision-making to deliver effective services for such a large and diverse population.

During challenging economic times, there’s no time better than the present to assure we’re getting the best government services possible and at the lowest cost. Although most county decisions lie within the exclusive authority of the commission, the local legislative delegation can make numerous modifications.

For background, the local delegation comprises all state representatives and senators that represent a portion of Fulton County. After the 2010 Census, the General Assembly drew new legislative maps. When those maps took effect this January, the balance of representation shifted north from Buckhead to the county border. Now, 13 Republicans and 12 Democrats represent Fulton in the House and seven Republicans and four Democrats in the Senate.

The first order of business after the Fulton delegation adopts new rules will be the introduction and passage of new county commission district maps. This is necessary per federal law following the 2010 Census counts to assure equal representation by commission districts. Additionally, the structure of the commission and its powers will be reconsidered.

As you may know, Fulton taxes and spends substantially more per resident than other metro counties. Its annual per capita tax revenues and expenditures are more than double those of Cobb and Gwinnett counties, even after taking into account the cost of Grady Hospital.

Fulton residents deserve a county that works, and their North Fulton delegation is committed to assuring our constituents get one. To that end, we’ll be working hard to cut through Fulton’s red tape.

To combat high property taxes that drive residents to move to lower-cost counties, I will champion an initiative to increase the county homestead exemption and implement limitations on millage rate increases. Along with the entire North Fulton delegation, I’m passionate about cutting the cost of government for all Fulton citizens.

Other areas under consideration for improvement through local legislation this session are the court, library and employment systems, as well as the elections board and certain authorities.

Reforming Fulton County has not supplanted my desire or that of my legislative colleagues to recreate Milton County. The challenge is that passing a constitutional amendment in the General Assembly with a two-thirds majority and then gaining passage statewide on a general ballot has a high threshold for success. This is particularly true for an issue that resonates primarily locally. I assure North Fulton residents, though, that it remains our top priority, and we will reintroduce the legislation again this year.

In retrospect, the creation of the new cities of Milton, Johns Creek and Sandy Springs a few short years ago demonstrated that citizens benefit from more accountable government closer to the people. Cutting Fulton County down to size would create similar benefits.

I encourage North Fulton residents to provide input and suggestions to their state representatives and senators on reforms that would make their county more accountable, efficient, effective and less costly.