The Jolt: Sticker shock hits Metro Atlanta cities as COVID money comes in far lower than estimate

Officials of Johns Creek and its Convention and Visitors Bureau dedicate the city's first gateway marker, on Kimball Bridge Road, in September 2020.  File photo.
Officials of Johns Creek and its Convention and Visitors Bureau dedicate the city's first gateway marker, on Kimball Bridge Road, in September 2020. File photo.

Credit: Johns Creek Convention and Visitors Bureau

Credit: Johns Creek Convention and Visitors Bureau

News and analysis from the politics team at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Six Metro Atlanta cities learned this month that they will receive significantly less in federal coronavirus relief funding than was initially estimated, leading to questions about fairness and methodology.

The difference is millions of dollars and will require government officials to scale back plans as they continue to map out their COVID-19 recovery.

While 17 other cities in Georgia also expect small decreases in what they received versus estimates that came out a couple of months ago, these six learned their cut would be as much as a two-thirds reduction.

An Atlanta Journal-Constitution report on the matter said the differences are due to conflicting formulas used by the U.S. House to make the estimates and the U.S. Treasury Department, which controls the final allocations.

For example, Alpharetta thought it would be receiving about $21 million, but recently learned its allocation was closer to $6.6 million, a 69% decrease. Johns Creek went from $26.6 million to $7.1 million, a 73% reduction. South Fulton is in line for $11.4 million, which is 64% lower than estimated.

Brookhaven’s funding was down 52% to $8.4 million; Smyrna will receive $8 million, which is 55% less than estimated. And Stonecrest, whose apparent mismanagement of a previous round of COVID relief funding has triggered investigations and an overhaul of city management, is in line for another $9.7 million, but that’s 44% less than its leaders were expecting.

The Georgia Municipal Association has been highlighting the issue in briefings to city leaders on the implementation of the American Rescue Plan, President Joe Biden’s top priority after taking office. The package included $350 billion in state and local funding as part of an overall $1.9 trillion package.

Privately, the GMA has also been trying to get answers from the Treasury Department on behalf of these cities. Larry Hanson, executive director of the association, emailed the department earlier this month, the AJC reports.

“While we all understand that those estimated amounts were intended as just that — estimates — there appears to be a great discrepancy between many of those estimates and final allocation amounts,” he wrote. “... Cities and their residents and businesses started planning how the use the expected funds to meet community needs. Obviously these large discrepancies will require these local leaders to reconsider where funds may be used and this will be difficult to explain to citizens and business owners who were aware of the published estimates.”

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Nearly 18 months after he left office, former U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson announced his latest venture: A new nonprofit to raise money and attention for Parkinson’s disease and other neurological afflictions.

The Isakson Initiative will seek to further the long-time politician’s work to boost biomedical research and treatment of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

“Upon my retirement, I have rededicated my life to serving the people of Georgia and the United States by doing everything within my power to help those who are working toward a cure for Parkinson’s and other related neurocognitive issues,” Isakson said.

“If our great nation continues to invest in public-private partnerships around biomedical research, we can improve and save the lives of millions of people. What a noble calling.”

The former three-term U.S. senator announced his retirement in 2019, four years after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Before his tenure in the Senate, he served in the Georgia House, the Georgia Senate and the U.S. House.

Earlier this year, the University of Georgia announced it raised more than $4.5 million to create a new eminent scholar position to attract a leading authority on brain disorders who specializes in Parkinson’s research.

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Republican Butch Miller’s decision to run for lieutenant governor apparently didn’t scare off his top potential rival.

State Sen. Burt Jones told FetchYourNews that he took offense to Miller’s remark about former President Donald Trump living in Florida.

“I don’t know why you’d say something like that when the president’s popularity is off the charts. I don’t know if he’s paying attention to the same group of people I’m talking to everyday. President Trump’s endorsement is golden.”

Jones was once considered a potential candidate for governor or U.S. Senate, but is now expected to run for lieutenant governor. He said he will make up his mind by mid-to-late June.

“I’d rather see the field totally play out so I know what I’m looking at.”

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POSTED: Atlanta City councilman and mayoral candidate Antonio Brown, who is running on a platform of “reimagining public safety,” had his car stolen as he attended a campaign event in Northwest Atlanta Wednesday.

Brown told WSB-TV that four children, with one who looked to be as young as seven years-old, jumped into his Mercedes-Benz and drove away when he got out of his car to greet someone. He also told the AJC that one of the assailants acted as if he had a gun.

Brown said he then called 911, waited on hold for five minutes, and then waited another 45 minutes for police to arrive.

Atlanta’s recent rise in violent crime has already become a top issue in the mayor’s race. Brown attributed the theft of his car to “generational poverty” and said crimes like this are fueled by hopelessness and desperation.

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In an interview with the New York Times about elections, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger did not sound like a man ready to back down from a showdown with U.S. Rep. Jody Hice in next year’s GOP primary.

Here’s what he had to say when asked about the Trump-backed Hice:

“Congressman Hice, though, he’s been up in D.C. for over six years, and he has never introduced a single piece of electoral reform legislation. He’s never done anything on election integrity, ever. And now he thinks it’s somehow an interesting issue for him to run on? That’s the challenge sometimes with congressmen. Some of them don’t do much when they get up there.”

And on the topic of Hice’s vote to overturn the 2020 election results:

“Well, if you’re honest with yourself, he’s a double-minded person. In Georgia, he accepted the results for his race, but he didn’t accept the results for President Trump’s race. How can you hold two opposing views at one time? So he’s going to have to live with his vote on Jan. 6.”

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Much of the attention on the GOP side of the Secretary of State’s race has focused on U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, who instantly became the frontrunner when Donald Trump endorsed him.

But former Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle, who announced the same day as Hice, has remained in the race, filling his social media feeds with biting critiques of incumbent Brad Raffensperger.

We occasionally get questions about why Belle Isle, who narrowly lost a runoff to Raffensperger in 2018, would bother staying in the contest. Here’s our best guess:

Hice is the unquestioned favorite, but with a field of multiple candidates, he still might not have enough support even with Trump’s endorsement to win outright without a runoff.

And though Raffensperger has committed to running for a second term, he could change his mind if his standing among Republicans doesn’t improve. In that case, Belle Isle could position himself as an alternative to Hice who is also Trump-friendly.

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Jason Winston says he’s running for the Atlanta City Council’s open District 1 seat. Winston is a marketing consultant and instructor at Georgia State University, as well as the chair of the Grant Park Conservancy Board of Directors.

The District’s longtime city councilwoman, Carla Smith, announced earlier this month that she won’t seek reelection.

District 1 includes the neighborhoods of Grant Park, Ormewood, Lakewood Heights, Summerhill and Peoplestown.

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As always, Jolt readers are some of our favorite tipsters. Send your best scoop, gossip and insider info to patricia.murphy@ajc.com.

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