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Suburbs fight 'taxation without representation'

The push for local governance and greater control of tax revenue in communities in the northern suburbs of Fulton County, Ga., has a moniker: “Taxation without representation.”

This is how Phil Kent, co-host of the “The Georgia Gang” program on WAGA-TV in Atlanta,  describes what’s happening in the Fulton County government.

“Tax revenue is being, let’s call it what it is, confiscated from the North Fulton suburbs and redistributed to pay for services in other areas of the county, which – for decades – has left large sections of the county without services and infrastructure capital,” Kent said. “People are frustrated with the status quo.”

WND reported yesterday some are wondering whether Atlanta is in danger of becoming “the Detroit of the South.”

That’s because of a succession of government scandals, ranging from a massive cheating racket to corruption, bribery, school-board incompetence and now the potential loss of accreditation for the local DeKalb County school system.

As a result of the unsavory politics in urban Atlanta, northern suburban communities have acted to distance themselves. Beginning in 2005, many communities began the process of incorporating into cities.

Thus far, Milton, Sandy Springs, Brookhaven, Dunwoody, Chattahoochee Hills and Johns Creek have done so.

“All too many areas of Fulton County, Clayton and DeKalb County are slipping into Third World status through governance and people are trying to find a better alternative and a better solution to the problems,” said Kent.

Critics have charged that the push for the creation of incorporated cities in North Fulton – and even the attempt to secede from Fulton County and create a new county – is tied to race.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that it was dissatisfaction with government services that led to the incorporation of the communities in North Fulton in an area that is 68 percent white and makes up more than a third of the county population. The median household income is $93,555, according to North Fulton chamber data.

The paper reported: “Northside residents have long complained that the county government siphons their tax money to the south while ignoring their needs, while Southside leaders contend that their money helped build up north Fulton, so it ought to reciprocate. The dispute has sparked a movement to split off the six northern cities and re-form old Milton County.

“Were that to happen, what remained of Fulton would have a $36,930 median household income, according to a 2009 study by researchers at the University of Georgia and Georgia State. South Fulton is 81 percent black and Atlanta is 54 percent black, according to census statistics.”

Kent said North Fulton County “hasn’t been properly represented for over 30 years, but it’s their tax revenue that has been supporting the whole county.”

There has been a drive to create a new county, but what will likely happen is a reconfiguration of how the county commission is selected, he said. The move would allow greater North Fulton participation and a voice in how a quarter of billion dollars in tax funds are distributed.

That’s not to say race may not be a factor sometimes.

WND has acquired the racial breakdown of public employees of Fulton County, the city of Atlanta and the transportation system MARTA, and they illustrate a pattern of racial hiring.

According to the 2010 census, Fulton County is 47.5-percent white and 40-percent black, however, a review of the 2012 employment records for Fulton County found that of the 4,851 full-time county employees, 3,980 are black (82 percent). Of the 916 county employees who are classified as “other than full-time employees,” 787 are black (85 percent).

A quick breakdown of certain departments shows a trend of exclusion in Fulton County public jobs, with 86 percent of the arts and culture department personnel black; 93 percent of 140 people in the behavioral health department black; 81 percent of the 98 people in the county managers department black; 90 percent of the 65 people in the emergency services black; 89 percent of the 118 in the finance department black. Of the 353 in the health and wellness department, 306 are black; of the 37 people in the purchasing department, 100 percent are black; of the 19 in the registrations and elections department, 100 percent are black; of the 150 employed in the tax assessor department, 84 percent are black; of the 185 employed in the tax commissioner department, 94 percent are black.

For the city of Atlanta, a city that is 54 percent black and 36 percent white, government employment resembled that of Fulton County.

Of 8,616 employees, 6,466 (74.8 percent) were black, while 1,884 (21.9 percent) of the positions were filled by whites. In the Department of Corrections, of 335 positions, 95 percent were filled by blacks; the department of human resources has 154 positions, 94 percent going to blacks; the department of information technology is 79 percent black; finance is 86 percent black (177 positions); procurement is 100 percent black (40 positions); public works, 822 jobs, is 96.8 percent black; watershed management (1,686 jobs) is 80 percent black; the executive department is 73 percent black; parks and community development is 69 percent black; the ethics/citizen review board is 83 percent black; judicial agencies are 78.9 percent black; public defender agencies is 70 percent black; of 292 jobs in the department of parks, recreation and cultural affairs, 88 percent are black; and the solicitors office is 84 percent black (45 positions).

MARTA, which is funded via tax revenue collected from Fulton and DeKalb counties, has a worker force of 4,527 employees, with 83 percent being black.

Of 50 employed dispatchers, only one is not black; 96 percent of the 1,227 operators are black; 100 percent of the recruiters are black; 85 percent of the 42 MARTA representatives are black; 94 percent of 295 people employed in services are black; 95 percent of the station agents are black; 84 percent of the superintendents are black; 88 percent of the 171 supervisors are black; and 82 percent of the transit police are black.

“The push for North Fulton County cities’ incorporation is not racially motivated, but when you see the jobs data, you wonder if the allocation of public money in Atlanta, for jobs at MARTA and Fulton County has been racially motivated in a way we aren’t supposed to notice,” Kent said.

Last July, residents of the Atlanta area overwhelmingly rejected a proposed 1-percent sales tax – a plan that in booming economic times might not even have been noticed.

The proposal (T-Splost) was for the sales tax in the 10-county metro Atlanta area to raise some $7.2 billion to pay for 157 transportation projects.

But all 10 counties rejected the idea, finishing with a margin of 63 percent opposed to the Transportation Investment Act, with only 37 percent in favor.

“Majority black counties like Clayton and DeKalb voted down the T-Splost,” said Kent, showing there was far-reaching, bi-partisan opposition to the tax hike.

Dick Williams, host of “The Georgia Gang,” told WND at the time that “the success of Sandy Springs, Johns Creek and Dunwoody, residents of other unincorporated neighborhoods of Fulton and DeKalb County are becoming more cognizant of the problems of non-localized government that isn’t accountable.”

“The counties cannot govern urban areas. The counties can run courts, libraries, jail, but they can’t deliver services to residents, which is one of the driving forces behind this move to incorporate and outsource government for greater efficiency and accountability,” said Williams.

He added: “I hope this is the wave of the future. I say that because, with five years of experience with five new cities, not one has raised taxes despite the worst [sustained] economic downturn since the Great Depression, and each of the new cities operates at a surplus.”

One aspect in the bid to create new, more efficiently run cities has many people taking notice. USA Today leveled a veiled charge of racism against Brookhaven, Sandy Springs, Dunwoody and Johns Creek.

“Cityhood is a contentious issue in metropolitan Atlanta, one rooted in and shaped by politics and race,” the paper said. “Wealthier, largely white communities on the city’s north side, which watched for years as their tax dollars were spent in poorer, mostly minority areas elsewhere in the two counties, had sought for years to break away and incorporate as cities with more local control.”

Williams asserted it’s “not the racial angle that drives it, it’s the delivery of services or the neglect of services that is compelling the citizens of these cities the USA Today attacked to make a move for more localized control of our tax dollars, so that we actually get a return on our investment in the community.”

“The city of Dunwoody has seven employees, plus 45 police. All the other services are contracted out, whether that be for zoning, finance, development or purchasing. As opposed to having huge, unfunded pension problems [and liabilities down the road], the city has the cops on 401ks,” said Williams.