Fulton County, Georgia

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Fulton County is a county located in the U.S. state of Georgia. As of the 2000 census, the population is 816,006. The county's slow but steady growth is evident with a population of 818,322 according to the 2003 U.S. Census Bureau estimate. Its county seat is Atlanta, Georgia6, the principal city of the Atlanta metropolitan area. Since 1909, part of east Atlanta has been annexed back into DeKalb County.



Fulton County was created from the western half of DeKalb County in 1853. This occurred when, during the 1840s, that county's seat of Decatur refused to allow a railroad terminal to be built due to noise concerns. A new point was selected a few miles west, and was later incorporated as Terminus, then Marthasville, and finally as Atlanta.

The name is often assumed to be in honor of inventor Robert Fulton, who (among may other inventions) built a steamboat in 1807. This assumption is likely because this steam engine was the predecessor to the steam locomotives which built Atlanta. However, some research now indicates that it may have been in honor of Hamilton Fulton, a surveyor for the Western and Atlantic Railroad.

As of the beginning of 1932, Milton County to the north and Campbell County to the southwest became part of Fulton County, to save money during the Great Depression. This gave the county its current awkward and long shape along 70 miles or 113 kilometers of the Chattahoochee River. Neighboring Cobb County ceded the city of Roswell to Fulton to make it contiguous with Milton, including everything east of Willeo Creek.


Recent years have seen residents of upscale, higher-income areas of northern Fulton County at odds with the less-advantaged areas of its central and south, over taxes and distribution of services.


One solution which has come up frequently during the 2000s is for north Fulton to secede, again becoming Milton County. This time it would include Roswell, as well as its original county seat of Alpharetta, and the neighborhood incorporated as Mountain Park. Some proposals call for it to include Sandy Springs as well, though it has always been in Fulton County and not in Milton. One of those proposals is being studied by a commission set up by the Georgia General Assembly during its 2005 session.

Any change in Georgia's county borders requires the consent of any county whose territory is involved, and the state legislature. In addition, any attempt to divide Fulton would require a constitutional amendment to the Georgia state constitution, in order for more than 159 counties to exist.


Since the 1970s, the longest-running battle has been allowing Sandy Springs to incorporate. WIth over 80,000 residents, it is already one of the largest cities in the state. It has not become a city however, due to the fact that it will take at least 20 million dollars away from the county every year, which will not be offset by the services the new city would take over. In 2005, the legislature finally allowed a referendum on the matter, to take place on June 21. All county residents in the area north of Atlanta and south of Roswell (at the river) will be eligible to vote, and it is expeced to pass with a significant majority. The new city would take over on the first day of 2006, though the county would continue to provide most services under contract through sometime in 2007.

Since 2004, municipalization of the entire county is also being considered, which would incorporate every area into a city. This would esentially eliminate the county's home rule powers (granted in the 1960s) to act as a municipality in unincorporated areas, and return it to being entirely a local extension of state government. At least one proposal would create several small cities, even where there are no longer towns to base them in.

If Milton were to become a county again, incorporating the relatively undeveloped northern and eastern corners of it would eliminate the need for much new government for a new county, though it would also create a need for two new city governments, possibly without a large enough tax base to support one or either of them. Incorporating the southwest of the county (formerly part of Campbell County) would be difficult, as the cities are really only smaller towns, and the unincorporated areas are quite large and not necessarily near any of them.

Other options

Other options which may be considered:

  • Under current Georgia law, the city of Atlanta could merge government with Fulton County's, becoming a consolidated city-county. This could be complicated by the fact that part of Atlanta is in another county, and by the presence of other large cities in Fulton.
  • Consolidation could also occur by reducing Fulton County down to only Atlanta, or to Atlanta and its immediate neighbors, leaving no unincorporated areas. This would also put the Atlanta-in-DeKalb area into Fulton, and require two new counties in the north and southwest.
  • Atlanta could be made an independent city, taking it out of both Fulton and DeKalb entirely. This would be difficult until more urban development can improve the city's tax base, and until the state begins to give significant support for MARTA and Grady Hospital (which serve the entire metro area but are paid for almost entirely by the city and county). Doing this would split Fulton County, requiring at the remaining parts to become another two counties.
  • Extraterritorial jurisdiction could be allowed, though statutory restrictions on the distance this could extend from an existing city may make it difficult to reach the far corners of the unusually-shaped and very unevenly-populated county. ETJ could also become a problem if boundaries are not organized and agreed upon at the beginning, which could spark further confusion and political discord if it becomes a first-come, first-served situation. ETJ is also mainly a zoning function, and thus may not be a complete solution.
  • A different type of municipal or civil division could be created, such as a town or township. This could give independent local boards certain ETJ-like powers, but unlike a new city still allow for annexation by existing cities. This option could be politically complicated, as it would make a change which would likely have a statewide effect. The only neighboring state with townships is North Carolina, where they are considered county divisions.
  • With the approval of the legislature, the far ends of the county could join other counties with their consent. The north end could rejoin Forsyth County, bringing the heavy business tax base of Alpharetta into the heavily-residential and still largely rural exurban county. The largely-undeveloped southwest end could rejoin with Douglas County, as they were originally under Campbell County.

Some of those options (except the first two and last) would also require an amendment passed by two-thirds of both the state house and senate, and a statewide referendum. Most have not yet been widely discussed, though the idea of consolidation has recently been mentioned by at least one state legislator.

Reorganization issues

Other issues which would have to be considered in a split of Fulton County are how assets would be distributed or shared, including the water system. Sales taxes, such as for MARTA, would also have to be passed on to any successors of the county, or replaced, preferably without a lapse. A new county would also require a new courthouse for state court, and new cities would each require a new city hall. Up to April 2005, these only seem to be in the idea stage, with no actual planning except for Sandy Springs.


Fulton County has a 7% total sales tax, including 4% state, 1% SPLOST, 1% homestead exemption, and 1% MARTA. Sales taxes apply through the entire county and its cities, except for Atlanta's additional 1% sewer and storm drain overhaul tax (8% total).


Almost every major highway (and every major Interstate highway) in metro Atlanta passes through Fulton County at some point, as it contains the bulk of Atlanta and all of its downtown. Outside Atlanta proper, Georgia 400 is the major highway through north Fulton, and Interstate 85 to the southwest.

MARTA serves most of the county, and along with Dekalb County pays a 1% sales tax to fund it. MARTA train service in Fulton is currently limited to the cities of Atlanta and Sandy Springs, including the airport. Bus service covers most of the remainder, except the rural areas far southwest.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport straddles the line with Clayton County to the south. The Fulton County Airport, often called Charlie Brown Field (after aviator Charles Brown) or informally West Atlanta airport, is located just west-southwest of Atlanta's city limit. It is run by the county as a municipal or general aviation airport, serving business jets and private aircraft.


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 1,385 km² (535 mi²). 1,369 km² (529 mi²) of it is land and 15 km² (6 mi²) of it is water. The total area is 1.11% water.


As of the census2 of 2000, there are 816,006 people, 321,242 households, and 185,677 families residing in the county. The population density is 596/km² (1,544/mi²). There are 348,632 housing units at an average density of 255/km² (660/mi²). The racial makeup of the county is 48.11% White, 44.57% Black or African American, 0.19% Native American, 3.04% Asian, 0.04% Pacific Islander, 2.60% from other races, and 1.45% from two or more races. 5.89% of the population are Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There are 321,242 households out of which 28.70% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 37.30% are married couples living together, 16.50% have a female householder with no husband present, and 42.20% are non-families. 32.20% of all households are made up of individuals and 6.70% have someone living alone who is 65 years of age or older. The average household size is 2.44 and the average family size is 3.15.

In the county the population is spread out with 24.40% under the age of 18, 11.00% from 18 to 24, 35.50% from 25 to 44, 20.70% from 45 to 64, and 8.50% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 33 years. For every 100 females there are 97.00 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 95.00 males.

The median income for a household in the county is $47,321, and the median income for a family is $58,143. Males have a median income of $43,495 versus $32,122 for females. The per capita income for the county is $30,003. 15.70% of the population and 12.40% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 22.60% of those under the age of 18 and 15.20% of those 65 and older are living below the poverty line.

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