ALPHARETTA, Ga. — Area mayors are continuing to fight for a greater share of $104 million in federal aid paid to Fulton County this spring as part of pandemic relief.
At a special City Council retreat Sept. 16, Alpharetta Mayor Jim Gilvin said he thought the county is prepared to divvy up more than the $15 million offer it proposed at a meeting of mayors earlier this month.
Gilvin said he thinks the county will be willing to double its offer. Based on a distribution by population, that could mean $3.3 million in relief to offset Alpharetta’s costs for extra pay and initiatives it undertook to address the pandemic, he said.
As if on cue, Fulton County commissioners approved upping their offer to $30 million at the end of their regular meeting that same morning.
For its part, Fulton County touts the improvement shown in recent weeks for the number of COVID-19 infections. County Manager Dick Anderson reported that the number of daily cases has dropped from more than 400 to 83, and the percent of those testing positive has fallen from 16 percent to 5 percent.
“Most importantly, Fulton County represents now less than 9 percent of the state caseload of positive cases,” Anderson said. “That’s half of where we started from.”
Anderson said there is always opportunity for Monday morning quarterbacking in how the county deployed the federal aid, but he “could say without reservation, our numbers speak for themselves.”
Fulton County received $104 million in federal aid dollars this spring to use for its own pandemic initiatives or to distribute to 13 of the 15 cities within its borders for their own expenses related to the crisis. The City of Atlanta received its own award directly from the federal government, and Mountain Park, with a population of about 568, did not participate.
The money was part of the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act signed into law by President Trump in March.
Fulton County first proposed distributing $2.5 million of its award, a little over 2 percent, to the 13 cities.
The cities have presented a united front and have threatened to sue for a greater share of the relief funding.
“When we threatened to sue them, they upped it to $15 million,” Johns Creek Mayor Mike Bodker said. “We told them that that was unacceptable, and we’ve been negotiating ever since.”
Bodker said that when mayors questioned the original $2.5 million offer, they were told by county officials that the most they had left of the original award was $10 million.
“All of a sudden, without saying anything to us, they passed $15 million, so it made me feel like the $10 million wasn’t exactly right,” Bodker said. “When they came up with $15 million, it was obvious there was probably more room.”
The cities argue that they have borne the bulk of expenses for pandemic relief, including added pay and equipment for front-line first responders and materials to keep municipal offices safe for workers and the visiting public.
“Our basic complaint as mayors is they didn’t coordinate with us from the get-go,” Bodker said.
In the ideal world, Bodker said, Fulton would have convened a meeting with the cities from the outset and worked out an equitable distribution based on anticipated costs for services. He said he recognizes Fulton County provides certain exclusive services, such as the Health Department, elections and other administrative functions. But, he added, cities are providing the bulk of emergency services, not to mention operating their own offices and facilities.
“We would’ve been very coordinated from an action standpoint, and then we would have just executed in coordination with each other.” Bodker said. “But all that didn’t happen, and now we’re playing catch-up.”