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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

County leaders ask Deal to veto anti-Fulton bill, cite impact on Grady

Fulton County Chairman John Eaves
Gov. Nathan Deal sat down with Fulton County Chairman John Eaves earlier today to discuss legislation that some critics think could limit the county's tax rate and hurt its ability to fund Grady Memorial Hospital.

The meeting took place after state lawmakers passed House Bill 604, which limits the county's ability to adjust its millage rate over the next two years, during the 2013 legislative session. The proposal was one of several bills pushed by legislators representing North Fulton. Some opponents of the legislation think it's aimed at reining in the county commission's powers.

Eaves presented Deal, who can either sign or veto the legislation, with a letter outlining Fulton County's concerns about HB 604. Earlier this week, credit agency Fitch Ratings lowered the county's credit rating and attributed the move to the bill. Deal has said he's unsure whether he would sign the bill and has until May 7 to make a decision.

"Fitch specifically points out HB 604 would constrain Fulton's ability to increase property tax revenue, the principal funding source for the general fund, and erode the county's financial flexibility," Eaves wrote. "This action will affect not only Fulton County Government but the Fulton County Building Authority, the Fulton-DeKalb Hospital Authority (Grady Hospital), and the Fulton County Facilities Corporation."

Eaves added that, if HB 604 became law, Fulton County might be forced to reduce how much funding it gives to Grady. The county set aside $50 million for the state's largest hospital in 2013, but could contribute less once it renegotiates its contact with the medical facility later this year.

"Grady Health System is the largest single line item in the Fulton County budget and Fulton County is the largest public supporter of Grady," Eaves wrote. "Cuts to Grady as a result of this bill could shift the indigent care burden to other metro hospitals."

The chairmen and CEO of surrounding county commissions - including Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Forsyth, and Rockdale - also signed the letter to the governor. Gwinnett County Chairman Charlotte Nash is expected to also send a letter of support for Fulton County. As Eaves suggests, they likely supported Fulton because the legislation could "have a ripple effect throughout the region," as it prevents local governments from determining their own tax rates..

"The voices and rights of residents are diluted when the powers of their local government are overrun by the state," Eaves said in an accompanying statement.

Brian Robinson, Deal's spokesman, says the governor won't comment until he signs or vetoes the legislation. CL also contacted Grady. If we hear back, we'll post an update.

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