Opinion: Fulton chair: LOST tax helps pay for county’s critical services

Revenue needed to help address public health, public safety crises
Fulton County jail

Credit: John Spink / Jspink@ajc.com

Credit: John Spink / Jspink@ajc.com

Fulton County jail

Each time a Fulton County resident eats in a restaurant or buys a new pair of shoes, we support important government services through Local Option Sales Tax, known as LOST.

Once every decade, counties and cities renegotiate how LOST proceeds will be shared. That’s because LOST is not a tax that benefits just cities or just counties, but is designed to offset the cost of services provided through the General Fund for each of those jurisdictions.

Over the last three months, Fulton County leaders have participated in good faith in LOST negotiations with our 15 cities.


Credit: Photo contributed by the candidate

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Credit: Photo contributed by the candidate

Right now, Fulton County receives just 4.98% of total LOST revenue to deliver services to 1.1 million residents, including funding for Grady Health System. Mental health services. Public health. Libraries. Senior services. And the Southeast’s busiest justice system, including the courts and the Fulton County Jail.

During this negotiation process, Fulton County is seeking more LOST funding to address two specific crises: public health and public safety.

Public safety

Public safety is an issue that affects every Fulton County resident and is consistently ranked as a top priority in citizen surveys. Almost all detainees in the Fulton County Jail were arrested by a police officer in one of our 15 cities. Those cases are processed in Fulton County courts. The jail is overcrowded and the county is allocating $28 million annually to lease jail beds from other jurisdictions, including Atlanta, in addition to normal jail operating costs.

Public health

Two hospitals have closed in Fulton County this year. This unprecedented set of circumstances has exacerbated pressures on other health providers, especially those serving indigent clients. So far, Fulton County has received requests for more than $140 million annually for indigent health care.

Similarly, suicide and drug-related deaths are on the rise in Fulton County – an increase of 20% in suicide deaths and 61% in drug-related deaths from 2017 to 2021. The mental health crisis is costing lives and there is an urgent need for funding for mental health services.

Unfortunately, we have not yet reached a consensus in the ongoing negotiations with Fulton County and the cities. Instead, we’ve seen statements that create confusion and discord among our residents.

For example, some have said that Fulton County doesn’t need LOST funding since almost all of our residents live in cities, not in unincorporated areas. But the fact is -- Fulton County’s share of LOST is not and has not been used for city-like services in unincorporated areas. By law, LOST funds must be used for countywide services, like public safety and public health.

The cities have also claimed that the county is seeking a reduction to their LOST revenues. But in reality, Fulton County has presented eight offers that would maintain the cities’ LOST funding pool dollars at or above their 2021 level.

While we would very much like to reach agreement, the cities’ latest offer would give just $2 million more per year for the county, and $125 million more per year for the cities. This math just doesn’t work.

Fulton County believes the work of our cities is important. But we know without a doubt that the services Fulton County provides are important. In fact, they are a matter of life and death for many people.

Many of the agencies that Fulton County funds to provide health and public safety services – from Grady Health System to the Sheriff’s office to community nonprofits – are anxiously watching LOST negotiations. They know their future funding may be at stake.

Fulton County has asked the 15 mayors to continue with the negotiation process. And as we continue, we will not stoop to turning citizens against our cities – which are supposed to be our partners in service.

Instead, we call upon the mayors to demonstrate the required leadership to continue these difficult conversations.

Robb Pitts is chairman of the Fulton County Commission.