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Fulton OKs $30M in COVID relief to cities in hopes of avoiding lawsuit

By Ben Brasch, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution #atlanta-ga

The Fulton County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday agreed to give cities a total of $30 million to fight COVID-19 after months of public fighting and legal threats over who gets federal coronavirus relief money.

Fulton received $104 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act money. Mayors have felt excluded from the county’s response to COVID-19 and are unhappy they did not receive direct allocations, unlike essentially every other city in Georgia.

Four counties — Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett — received direct CARES Act funding. Leaders of the 48 municipalities within those counties were confused about where they should ask for a cut of the money. In July, Gov. Brian Kemp told those cities they would have to go to their counties for money.

In a rare moment of unity, the cities of Fulton in mid-August began threatening to file a request for an injunction that would stop Fulton from spending any more of the federal funds.

Commissioners upped the amount from $2.5 million to $15 million after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported about the legal threat from the cities.

Mayors from every city had agreed to sign on except Atlanta and Mountain Park. Atlanta received a direct CARES Act allotment of $88.5 million, and Mountain Park has had no direct COVID-19 expenses for its roughly 550 Northside residents.

The $30 million will be split into $25 million for the cities and $5 million for personal protective equipment, according to the county attorney.

But many details aren’t clear because the commissioners discussed the deal in a closed-door executive session, using the possible legal action as the reason to not publicly discuss the use of taxpayer funds.

Among the unknowns is the source of the additional $15 million. The county has allocated/spent all of its CARES Act money, so if it federal aid money.

Reached by phone shortly after the vote, Johns Creek Mayor Mike Bodker said he did not yet know the details of the deal. But he said the cities deserve more than $30 million because Fulton is almost entirely comprised of cities.

“We obviously believe that the sharing of funds should have been significantly more than $30 million to the cities, but at this point there’s a practical reality: the money must be spent by Dec. 30. So we’re running out of time to have this discussion much longer,” he said.

Bodker, who has been leading the mayors in this matter, said the cities would look to the state to make them whole. He said he wasn’t sure what that exact figure would be. So with the clock ticking, now that the county has acted the mayors can start negotiating with the state.

“It’ll end up being a hollow victory is we get a yes and the yes is in December,” he said. “Running out the clock, it’s been effective.”