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Plan to split county hints at racial divide

Published January 24, 2007


ATLANTA - 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 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."

He warned that a breakup of Fulton could harm Atlanta's international reputation as a progressive city and hurt its appeal as a business, entertainment and convention destination.

The measure would require the support of two-thirds of both the House and Senate. Voters statewide and residents of what would become Milton County would also have to endorse the plan.

The area that would be Milton County is mostly white and Republican and one of the most affluent areas in the nation. Atlanta and its southern suburbs are mostly black, are controlled by Democrats and have neighborhoods with some of the highest poverty rates in America.

"The only way to fix Fulton County is to dismantle Fulton County," said state Rep. Jan Jones, the plan's chief sponsor. "It's too large, and certainly too dysfunctional, to truly be considered local government." She denied the move is racially motivated.

While other Southern cities erupted in violence a generation ago, Atlanta came through the civil rights movement with little strife, earning the nickname the "City Too Busy to Hate."

Fast Facts:

Dividing Fulton County

Fulton County: Population of 915,000, greater than that of six states. The proposed divide would keep Atlanta and its southern suburbs, which are mostly black and Democratic and have neighborhoods with some of the highest poverty rates in America, in Fulton.

Milton County: Was folded into Fulton County in 1932. Would be restored under the proposal. The former Milton County is now mostly white and Republican and one of the most affluent areas in the nation.

The fight: Supporters say the plan would create a more responsive government. Opponents say it pits white against black and rich against poor.

Taxes: Residents of north Fulton represent 29 percent of the county's population but pay 42 percent of its property taxes, according to a local taxpayers group. A split would lead to the loss of $193-million in property taxes alone for Fulton County.

[Last modified January 24, 2007, 01:02:32]

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