Instead of COVID jail unit, Fulton tries to find new way to spend $23M

Fulton County commissioners next week will consider a new way to spend the $23 million of federal pandemic relief money that has been earmarked for a COVID-19 isolation unit in the jail.

Chairman Robb Pitts sent a letter to the county manager Tuesday saying they need to look at other options for the money because of “the apparent lack of support from the Board of Commissioners,” and the county hasn’t been able to reach a deal with the city of Atlanta to buy or lease the Atlanta Detention Center.

Fulton has until the end of the year to spend the $104 million in CARES Act money it received from the federal government.

MORE | Jail isolation unit, feeding kids: Fulton's $104M plan to fight COVID

Pitts’ letter suggests several alternate uses for the $23 million:

• $10 million for community support, like food for seniors and small business loans.

• $5 million for re-training Fulton residents who are hospitality/retail workers.

• $3 million in reimbursement to the 14 cities in Fulton that haven't gotten their own cut of federal money (some wanted $50 million for the cities).

• $3 million for a stockpile of personal protective equipment.

• $2 million to buy mobile medical vehicles.

Pitts told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he is open to other uses for the money, but he expects to bring up his plan at the upcoming virtual meeting Wednesday at 10 a.m.

READ | Metro Atlanta leaders left to make COVID-19 decisions with shaky data

Pitts said he was initially surprised by the amount received. Soon after, public safety officials said an isolation unit for vulnerable inmate population would be critical to keeping the community safe should a second wave of the virus come in fall, as many fear.

Alton Adams, Fulton’s deputy chief operating officer, told commissioners last week that the standalone unit on the jail property would hold 120 inmates and could be used for future medical needs.

But Commissioner Joe Carn argued it was not a good use of the money, and the issue was held until the next meeting.

When the AJC showed Carn the letter on Thursday, he said: “These expenditures would definitely help to prevent a second wave in metro Atlanta … more so than isolating 120 inmates.”

The jail has avoided a large scale outbreak, but Pitts said he hopes the jail isn’t a victim of its own success.

“The blood will be on our hands if we should have acted and didn’t,” Pitts said.

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