Fulton Commission Chairman Rob Pitts makes a statement at the start of a second mediation session on LOST revenue distribution. (YouTube/Save Fulton Cities)

Fulton County’s mayors rejected a proposed distribution of Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) revenue that would send $341 million more to the county than it gets under the current budget.

Fulton Commission Chairman Rob Pitts made an opening statement to the mayors at the second mediation session held on Oct. 7. He said the formation of new cities did not reduce services the county provides with its general fund, such as courts, healthcare services and public safety, including the county jail.

“First and foremost, Fulton County provides services to 1.2 million residents plus as many as 1 million visitors, workers and students,” he said in an opening statement to the mayors. “No matter what city you live in within Fulton County you receive services from this. Fact.”

The cost of providing those services continues to rise, but he said they face a crisis in two areas: public health and public safety.

“When you talk about the court system, we all know we have a public safety crisis,” Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul said. “As you recall that last summer the county received significant revenues from the federal government and Mr. Chairman none of that came to the cities. In fact, you put $70 million in the court system out of those funds.”

Pitts and Commissioner Bob Ellis both told the mayors that the costs for the county such as support for the Grady Hospital System, mental health and public safety are multi-year costs. Those problems won’t be solved in a single year, Ellis said.

“You all know that it’s difficult to hire law enforcement officials. Imagine what it’s like to try to hire somebody who wants to work at Fulton County Jail,” Ellis said.

The mayors said they offered Fulton County a 43% increase in what it has collected in LOST revenue. The county countered with a 163% increase, or a total of $550 million, which the cities rejected.

“Fulton County continues to treat the cities and their constituents with disrespect, demanding enormous increases in sales tax revenues that would devastate city budgets,” a statement released by the mayors said.

They said their offer will cover healthcare expenses that Pitts outlined. But the jail is not eligible for LOST revenues, according to the mayors.

The county failed to explain why it had enough funds to cut millage rates yet needs an additional $341 million, the statement said. More proof to the mayors that the county doesn’t need the revenue is a threat to let the sales tax expire, which would cost the cities and county approximately $4 billion over 10 years. The mayors called that a $1.8 billion tax subsidy that would come out of the pockets of local taxpayers instead.

“The county’s demands would undermine the city services that Fulton citizens want and need. We cannot and will not accept a deal that would require draconian cuts to police departments, ambulance services and parks and recreation and/or property tax increases that would hurt residents and our competitiveness,” the mayors’ statement said.

Bob Pepalis

Bob Pepalis covers Sandy Springs for Rough Draft Atlanta and Reporter Newspapers.