ATLANTA — Education, transportation and economic development top Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves’ list of priorities for the year, he told a gathering of business leaders Thursday.
Eaves, who was elected in November to his third four-year term, told the Buckhead Business Association (BBA) he wants to work with local school systems and technical colleges to help people stay in school, find jobs and be productive members of society.
“We are noticing that a high percentage of folks are going into our criminal justice system and our jail in particular,” Eaves told the audience gathered at the City Club of Buckhead. “…A high percentage of them are high school dropouts. And so, we need to do all that we can to try to get young men especially who are dropping out of the educational system to stay in school.”
The Fulton County Jail houses about 2,500 inmates, and about 40,000 people pass through the jail in the course of a year, Eaves said. The county currently spends about $100 million of its $600 million county budget on the jail.
Turning to another hot-button topic, Eaves advocated for better integration among the metro area’s transit systems. While he predicted these systems will eventually better synchronize their operations, he acknowledged governance and funding mechanisms must be worked out.
“That’s one of the biggest complaints of everybody in our county and our region. How can we better mitigate traffic,” Eaves said. “…I’m a strong proponent that mitigating our traffic problems in the region and in our county cannot just be solved by roads alone. We’ve got to get people into our transit system.”
The pendulum appears to be shifting in favor of public transportation. Clayton County, for example, voted in November to join MARTA, and Eaves believes a stronger public transportation network is a cornerstone of economic success throughout the region.
“I believe for this county, this region to be vibrant, we must have a strong regional transit system,” Eaves said.
On the topic of economic development, Eaves boasted the recent news that Mercedes-Benz is relocating from New Jersey to Sandy Springs. That economic development win was made possible by collaboration between the state and the county, Eaves said.
Eaves also said the county is planning to restore funding for libraries, allowing for expanded hours that were slashed a few years ago. In addition, a $275 million bond referendum Fulton County voters approved in 2008 will fund the construction of eight new libraries and the renovation of 23 libraries countrywide; six of the libraries have already been built or are under construction.