‘Home rule,’ collaboration can co-exist

By Bob Ross

The Atlanta metro area we cherish is competing intensively with other regions throughout the Southeast (and beyond) for businesses, jobs and a high quality of life. Staying ahead demands solutions to local, regional and state-level issues, but we don’t need a regional layer of governance to succeed.
Georgia has a proud tradition of “home rule” by its 159 counties — jurisdictions that are inherently more responsive to citizen taxpayers than higher levels of government.
Concurrently, we face an increasingly greater and more complex number of regional issues that no single county can tackle. What to do?
Former Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) Chairman and current Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens asked last year if it was time to elect a metro leader. I’m opposed to another layer of government; I don’t believe we citizens need more officials directing our lives.
Between the status quo and our state government, we need to find the balanced center, a solution that capitalizes on our home rule strengths to solve cross-county challenges.
ARC’s staff expertise remains a valuable part of the solution; the staff tracks and forecasts trends in population, water resources, transportation and air quality — which all cross county boundaries. Metro citizens should elect ARC’s chairman.
The bigger contribution comes from providing counties the authority to come together for a defined period to solve cross-border issues for their mutual benefit. Fulton and Fayette counties, for example, could jointly agree to revise the choking intersection at Ga. 74 and I-85. Fulton may also agree with several other counties to address mutually beneficial development plans that span their jurisdictions.
Voters’ ability to approve fractional sales tax increases would better facilitate these arrangements. Then, counties could more closely scope tax collections to projects as the need for overlapping agreements arise over the years.
It would also be essential to accurately define the scope of the issue(s), management responsibilities, desired outcomes, contributions (staff time, dollars and equipment), key performance measures and end date.
Most of the county commissioners and the city council of the most populous jurisdiction in each county could authorize participation in a multi-county authority, as all those officials are most directly responsible to their citizens. Particularly expensive and/or controversial agreements may be put on a voter referendum.
As with any public endeavor, officials have to be honest with citizens or face the projects’ defeat and maybe their own. Don’t use an essential initiative as cover for unnecessary contracts or projects that don’t maximize tax use to achieve the stated public objective.

Bob Ross is co-founder of the Fayette County Issues Tea Party.

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