Rich Atlanta Towns vs. Robin Hood

In Atlanta, there’s been a fight brewing for some time. Fulton County consists of some of the poorest parts of the city, and some of the richest. For decades, the political calculus in Fulton County ensured that those poor sections had the voting power, and thus the richer sections found themselves getting eaten alive by taxes to pay for services benefitting other parts of the city, while their own infrastructure was ignored by Fulton County’s government.

Fulton County, Sandy Springs (red)
The area known as Sandy Springs (pictured to the right), a very wealthy area that was an unincorporated portion of Atlanta, brought the issue to a head in 2005 when they voted to incorporate. Sick of seeing their tax dollars squandered on vote-buying programs in South Fulton, they decided they could do better on their own.

Now the issue has blown up again. If you look at the map of Fulton County, you can see that it doesn’t make any sort of geographic sense. Nor is there any sort of demographic cohesion, as the North Fulton area is full of rich towns like Alpharetta, Roswell, and Sandy Springs, while South Fulton includes some of the poorest areas of the city. The North Fulton folks have history on their side as well, as they were previously known as Milton County, which was absorbed into Fulton during the Great Depression.

But while the incorporation of Sandy Springs caused a small uproar, the recent secession movement of North Fulton has created a firestorm.

A potentially explosive dispute in the City Too Busy to Hate is taking shape over a proposal to break Fulton County in two and split off Atlanta’s predominantly white, affluent suburbs to the north from some of the metropolitan area’s poorest, black neighborhoods.

Legislation that would allow the suburbs to form their own county, to be called Milton County, was introduced by members of the Georgia Legislature’s Republican majority earlier this month.

Supporters say it is a quest for more responsive government in a county with a population greater than that of six states. Opponents say the measure is racially motivated and will pit white against black, rich against poor.

“If it gets to the floor, there will be blood on the walls,” warned state Sen. Vincent Fort, an Atlanta Democrat and member of the Legislative Black Caucus who bitterly opposes the plan. Fort added: “As much as you would like to think it’s not racial, it’s difficult to draw any other conclusion.”

“Blood on the walls”?

There’s a reason why it’s easy for opponents to couch this in racial terms. It’s their only hope. The truth is far more hostile to their ends. In reality, they’ve been plundering North Fulton county for decades, spending the money in South Fulton, and ignoring the concerns of North Fulton. The numbers prove it:

Residents of north Fulton represent 29 percent of the county’s population of 915,000 but pay 42 percent of its property taxes, according to a local taxpayers group.

Now, for some people in North Fulton, race may play a part of it. It’s certainly true that the racial makeup of the two halves of the county are opposite. But it’s also true that when you’re getting mugged, you don’t care what race the mugger is. This is a lot more about money than it is about race. The people of North Fulton county want a responsive government, and want to benefit from the fruits of their labor. They don’t have either of those now, and the strange geography and history of Fulton County give them an easy option to get out.

Vincent Fort worries that this will hurt Atlanta’s reputation as a “progressive” city. I’d say it might help the reputation of the Atlanta metro area as a place where residents can actually opt out of Atlanta’s failing “progressive” government, and that’s something I’m always in favor of.

Hat Tip: The Pubcrawler

  • Don Lloyd


    “Residents of north Fulton represent 29 percent of the county’s population of 915,000 but pay 42 percent of its property taxes, according to a local taxpayers group.”

    This is not a large imbalance, as such things go.

    The lack of services provided, if true, would be a more significant question.

    Regards, Don

  • Jmarsh

    Saw your comment at Pubcrawler… the “real estate book” shows that Fulton property taxes are lower than Cobb and the unmentionable to the east, DeKalb. The book to which I refer is the 300 page new housing guide available at supermarkets. Am I missing something?

  • Brad Warbiany


    I didn’t have any hard data on the lack of services, so I’m going off hearsay on that. North Fulton residents have complained for years that they’re not getting their “fair share” of the taxes they pay, but it’s unclear whether there is objective support for that claim.


    I know that when I did some of the research, total sales taxes in Fulton are 8%. This includes 1% for MARTA, which we don’t pay in Cobb, and I think the total in Cobb is 6% (note that all this info is from Wikipedia). I think when we bought my wife’s car in late ’05 it was only 5% (which coincides with some of the Wikipedia info). Property taxes, from what I’ve seen, is 1%, but works out to about 0.6% or so after homestead exemption.

    From what I’ve heard, East Cobb (where I live) has those same low taxes, but some of the best schools in the state. I’m not sure how big of a difference there is between North Fulton and South Fulton schools though…

  • Jmarsh

    Good thing I found a gun store in Cobb for my birthday purchases! I didn’t realize sales taxes varied that much…

    I think (anecdotally) that north Fulton had an argument about services… County cops in Roswell/Alpharetta didn’t seem to be very thick except when sitting on 400. Fire ratings may be an objective way of looking at that side of the picture. Looking at the Fulton county list of libraries, two are listed in Alpharetta, one in Roswell, and the balance in Atlanta proper, with stragglers in Union City and Hapeville and the like.

    Checking out the budget available online, it doesn’t break down any further than department, with the two biggest, at 90million or so each, being general services and the Sheriff.

    (2006 Budget Link)

  • tkc

    My reason for posting the story is in the title. When talking with progressives they often refer to taxe and redistribution schemes as a price to be paid for civilized socitey (as if legalizing theft is civil). When I object on libertarian or anarcho-capitalist grounds I am usually told to ‘love it or leave it’ which in itself is not very civilized either.
    The point is that even if you try to leave, the progressives will try to stop you.

  • James Reese

    Interesting comments….I can care less about Milton County being formed. I’m worried more about what has happened to our educational system under the guidance of those that now want to form Milton County. You see, the Fulton County Commission is divided into 7 districts based on population county-wide. 5 districts and two at-large members representing the entire county including the chair.
    The Fulton County School Board on the other hand has seven members covering all areas outside of the city of Atlanta (Atlanta has its own independent school district, 1/3 of the county) represented. For N Fulton that means they have 5 (excuse me 4.75 representatives) and S Fulton has 2.25 representatives.
    Although we pay more in school taxes than property taxes and a Local Option Sales Tax our money is spent mostly in the N Fulton to build lavish high schools. Meanwhile, S Fulton is getting its the first newly constructed high school in 15+ years.
    The population growth has completely shifted south, but the construction of new schools is has not and will not catch up. My sons attend two of the latest elementary and middle schools and they are in portables.
    You see my concern regarding Milton County has little to do with them taking their money and going home. It’s taking the school property my tax dollars have paid for and going home that bothers me. I’ve estimated there is approximately $2 billion worth of school property in N Fulton. Once Milton County is formed who does the schools belong to? They were purchased using Fulton County tax money not Milton County’s.

    You left out a bit in the historical background. Although N Fulton is saying they are receiving far less in service than they contribute. They fail to mention the FIB contribution to N Fulton. FIB is Fulton Industrial Blvd (S Fulton)- once the largest and most profitable industrial park east of the Mississippi. The tax dollars from FIB built Sandy Springs which is in NF. From there the area prospered while S Fulton remained rural and undeveloped. To this day SF is still in that state.
    Now that SF has started to attract development there’s no money in the pot from FIB because it was all spent on NF. Of course since NF is more developed it’s funding would be used in other parts of the county that is less developed. They don’t want that. As a matter of fact a state legislator penned a bill that made it illegal to collect funds in N Fulton and spend it anywhere but N Fulton. That’s punitive and I’ll let God handle that down the road.

    Further the lack of service has more to do with what was in place before Fulton County took over. For instance, the library system once belong exclusively to Atlanta therefore, all the libraries were within the city limits. When Fulton County merged its small system with Atlanta’s most of the branches were in urban settings like Sandy Springs and not in the under populated areas of N or S Fulton.

    Of course, you won’t here the TRUTH from those wanting to form Milton county. It doesn’t fit well with their propaganda.

    For those that don’t know Fulton County’s sales tax is 7%. My property tax in South Fulton is 17 mill for Fulton County and 17 mill for School taxes. Fulton County has reduced the millage rate by over 3 mills since 1995.

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  • Davis

    – What happens to the schools built in North Fulton? Can a Milton School System be formed?
    – Would a Milton School System have to buy existing schools from Fulton County Schools?
    – If SPLOST III passes will Milton residents continue paying the 1% sales tax to Fulton Schools until it expires in 2012?
    – What are the boundaries on the southern side of Milton are you including Buckhead?
    – If Buckhead is included would the schools be purchased from Atlanta Public Schools?
    – How do you handle the all of the bonds predicated on the existence of Fulton County? Won’t they all need to be restructured?
    – Will taxes in Milton County be reduced or frozen by statute?
    – How much will it cost to build Milton jails, courts, sheriff’s office and libraries?
    – Would county facilities need to be purchased from Fulton County like Sandy Springs paid for Fire Department buildings?
    – What happens with the contribution to MARTA from what would be Milton. Does it go away?
    – What happens to the funding for Grady?
    – Will the referendum to form the county be a countywide Fulton vote?