Fulton commissioner shares county side in LOST fight with cities

A member of the Fulton County Board of Commissioners says the board is not seeking a drastic increase in its share of revenue from the local option sales tax.

Commissioner Bob Ellis said Thursday that the county’s stance on LOST has been mischaracterized by officials from the 15 cities that the county is negotiating with to increase its share of the revenue. He said the county has been discussing an increase to 15% — up from the current rate of less than 5% — to shore up county services.

The LOST is a one-penny sales tax that local governments use to pay for such services as police and fire, transportation, recreation and parks, and more.

North and south Fulton cities have unified to fight Fulton.

The cities have held two town hall forums to make their case to the public that LOST represents millions in their local budget. Higher property taxes and reduced emergency services could take place if they receive a lower amount of the revenue, the cities say.

No Fulton commissioners attended the cities’ most recent forum in College Park on Wednesday.

“It was a staged attempt to make the county look bad,” Ellis said of the town halls.

Ellis said the proposed increase to 15% of LOST revenue was negotiated in 2012. The county’s share dropped to its current rate when the city of South Fulton was formed in 2017.

“When we lost those additional proceeds ... that was about $160 million that would have been going to our general fund that didn’t happen,” Ellis said. “We didn’t say we’re going to go raise taxes to try to recoup that.”

The loss of funds and inflation has contributed to the delay of capital projects and expanding services, he said.

A Fulton increase in LOST revenue would go towards the cost of court operations, a 24-hour behavioral crisis center, the Fulton County jail, Alpharetta detention operations, Grady Hospital and more, he said.

Assertions by the 15 cities that courts, jail and the sheriff’s department are not eligible for the LOST funds is wrong, the commissioner said.

Ellis cited how Fulton Sheriff Patrick Labat estimates a new jail will cost up to $500 million. Last week the commissioners approved a $27 million contract with a firm to provide medical care at the jail.

“We’ve got the largest court system in the southeast which means we’ve got the largest jail system in the southeast,” Ellis said.

The inmate population has increased 41% since 2020 and with space limitations, the cost of leasing beds at the Atlanta Detention Center and in Cobb County is more than $10 million, he said.

LOST is designed to provide a fair distribution for cities and the county, Ellis said.

Similar to the cities’ position the commissioner said, “If a bad deal is struck for the county there’s going to be an increase in property taxes.”

The two parties met for mediation last Friday. The next mediation date is scheduled for Oct. 7.