Fulton’s cities ‘holding their noses’ while approving CARES Act deals

Mayor of Johns Creek Mike Bodker speaks at a meeting of Fulton County mayors on Friday, May 3, 2019. EMILY HANEY / emily.haney@ajc.com

Mayor of Johns Creek Mike Bodker speaks at a meeting of Fulton County mayors on Friday, May 3, 2019. EMILY HANEY / emily.haney@ajc.com

Cities in Fulton County this week started approving a $30 million deal for federal COVID-19 aid that will spell an end to a contentious battle that pitted elected officials from Fulton against their counterparts in the cities that are home to most of the county’s population.

The mayors of Fulton County have been publicly fighting for weeks to get a bigger share of the $104 million federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funding the county received in April.

All but Atlanta and Mountain Park indicated they would file an injunction asking a judge to block Fulton from spending any more of the federal funds unless they got more money.

Commissioners upped the amount to the cities from $2.5 million to $15 million after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on the legal threat. But county commissioners last week offered the cities a total of $25 million in reimbursements for COVID-related expenses, and $5 million for personal protective equipment.

Each city is expected to enter its own deal with Fulton by the end of next week to get a cut of the money based on population.

“I am holding my nose when I vote yes on this,” said Johns Creek Mayor Mike Bodker, who has been leading the group of mayors in this matter.

Four counties — Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett — received direct CARES Act funding. Leaders of the 48 municipalities within those counties were confused about where they should ask for a share of the funds. In July, Gov. Brian Kemp told those cities they would have to go to their counties for payouts.

The federal government used Fulton’s population to arrive at $104 million, leaving city leaders wanting most of the money because essentially all Fulton residents live inside of a city. County leaders argue that they acted (and spent) fast to curb the spread of the virus and help all Fulton residents affected.

Bodker said the mayors want $70 million in total and have been negotiating with the state for another payout.

When asked by his council about the status of those talks with the state, Bodker said: “I think you should assume this is the only CARES Act funding we will get at this time."

The cities must spend fast because all the funds go back to Washington D.C. if not used by Dec. 30.

That led to discussions about how cities were going to spend that money. Some council members wanted to put the money toward public safety salaries, others wanted to give it to business owners. But no city has given a full plan of how it’ll spend the money, in part because federal guidance keeps changing.

Mayors have been slamming county leaders as they pitch their deals to unenthusiastic and skeptical city council members.

“Fulton County has dialed back the clock," said Roswell Mayor Lori Henry. She said the relationship with Fulton is like it was 15 years ago during the knockdown fights of the cityhood movement away from county rule.

City leaders say they’ve never been more united against Fulton.

“They may have won this battle, but they haven’t won this war,” said Fairburn Mayor Elizabeth Carr-Hurst.

Negotiations will be different when the county tries to pitch mayors on hot-button items like the upcoming county transit deal, she said.

“Fulton’s done a very effective job over the years of dividing the cities based on either racial tones or demographics or socio-economics or North-South,” Bodker said. “They won’t be doing that anytime soon. The 14 mayors are standing strong together.”

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