In the Fulton County Government Center, portable heaters sit in the atrium, and signs inform of renovations that are in progress, including the elevators. Fulton County is set to spend nearly half a million dollars to assess its facilities. Some renovations are in progress. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM AJC File Photo

Fulton County’s proposed budget funds planned improvements

Fulton County will spend millions of dollars in 2017 to fix its buildings, upgrade its internet infrastructure and improve the justice system — the same areas that government leaders directed spending to this year.

“Our priorities are more clear than they have been the last couple years,” County Manager Dick Anderson told commissioners Wednesday.

There aren’t many surprises in Fulton County’s proposed budget, but officials must make adjustments for a new city that will incorporate next year.

The budget includes four months of services for what will become the City of South Fulton. Leaders of the new municipality then must decide whether they want to contract with the county or offer the services on their own.

Until that time, the county has pledged to maintain services at the same level. The city is expected to pay $6.9 million out of its first tax collections to compensate the county for providing services through the end of April.

“It’s a transition, ultimately,” Chief Financial Officer Sharon Whitmore said.

Fulton County will still have to provide police, fire and other city services to an unincorporated stretch of land in south Fulton called Fulton Industrial Boulevard.

Fulton’s total budget is $916.5 million. The largest portion of money — 34 percent — will go toward safety, including staffing the jail. The contract to provide medical services at the jail increased for next year, and accounts for a $3.6 million increase.

The county will use $7.4 million that was in the 2016 budget, but not spent, to fund improvements to the justice system. The money will go toward finding a better way to manage people who have mental health disorders and to speed up the time it takes for a case to be heard. The goal is to reduce the jail population and to improve the speed of the criminal justice system while reducing the number of people who commit crimes once they have been released.

Money will also go toward funding infrastructure improvements commissioners approved this year, both in internet technology and in the county’s physical spaces.

There was one notable change in the budget. Following complaints about understaffed senior centers, the county will spend an additional $2 million to increase personnel, as well as to increase transportation options for seniors, many of whom are on a waiting list.

The proposed budget is preliminary, and won’t be adopted until January. Residents can attend a series of public meetings to learn more about where the county plans to spend its money. The first, hosted by Commissioner Lee Morris, will be Thursday.

Vice Chairman Liz Hausmann said she thought it was “important to show the direction we’re going with clarity” to residents countywide.

“I’m already impressed,” Morris said of the proposed budget.

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