Fulton’s proposed $1.1B budget reveals projected COVID-19 expenses next year

The Fulton County Government Center was sporadically bustling in downtown Atlanta, Georgia, on Monday, June 29, 2020. (REBECCA WRIGHT FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)
The Fulton County Government Center was sporadically bustling in downtown Atlanta, Georgia, on Monday, June 29, 2020. (REBECCA WRIGHT FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

Credit: REBECCA WRIGHT FOR THE ATLANTA J

Credit: REBECCA WRIGHT FOR THE ATLANTA J

Fulton County’s financial experts predict the most populated county in Georgia will need $42 million to fight COVID-19 for half of next year.

The COVID-19 response money would be in addition to the $104 million of federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act money the county received in April.

The new money would pay for continued testing, a new vaccine program, equipment for employees, cleaning county facilities and enhancing the virtual environment — supporting remote work for employees and expanding virtual services to public.

The six months of projected COVID-19 spending in 2021 was based on how the county used it’s CARES Act money this year.

Fulton commissioners on Wednesday were presented with the next proposed county budget, which included the forecast of COVID expenses next year.

“The budget was developed knowing that we are still in the process of reimagining and determining what our future service delivery models are going to look like,” said Sharon Whitmore, county chief financial officer.

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The budget assumes no property tax growth and a 94% collection rate for billings.

That $42 million for coronavirus response is 5% of the county’s estimated $785 million in general fund expenses. The county expects to bring in $719 million of revenue and plans to meet the gap with money left over from the last fiscal year.

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It isn’t clear if the county will get more federal COVID aid. Congress has failed to create another relief package amid maybe the most polarized time in modern American politics.

If Congress does pass another relief package with money for local governments that covers Fulton’s COVID-19 costs, Whitmore said the county has already decided how it would use any surplus county funds freed up by the federal aid.

The first is “a deep dive on the elections process” that may include a central elections facility that would store all the new equipment from state-chosen machines and would put all elections processing/storage under one roof.

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The county would also look to use this historic moment of a new District Attorney and a new Sheriff to enhance the courts with a shared vision.

Whitmore said Fulton would also secure and improve county virtual infrastructure because the county’s many desks won’t be filled like before.

“We will be working on a plan that provides for partial return of employees back into county facilities with a certain number of employees continuing to work remotely 100% of the time, as well as some being in a hybrid setting,” she said.

The next step for the budget is a required public hearing at the Board’s Dec. 2 meeting. If all stays on track, the budget would be approved during a January meeting.

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