Next Story

New details in Caroline Small police shooting

City creation reform bill stalls in Georgia House


After a decade of contentious debate over creating new cities, many state lawmakers tried to require more thorough vetting this year before communities could incorporate.

But the effort to bring order to Georgia’s cityhood movement – with deeper feasibility studies and a formal legislative process – appears to have fallen short. The legislation passed the Senate 55-1 but didn’t get a hearing in the House.

Sen. Elena Parent, the chairwoman of a task force that recommended the changes last year, said the Georgia General Assembly missed an opportunity.

“It would be helpful for people and legislators to have a more robust and predictable process so the General Assembly isn’t mired in what are essentially local fights,” said Parent, D-Atlanta. “We’re creating a new government. It’s not a small thing.”

Eight cities have formed in metro Atlanta since Sandy Springs started the incorporation trend in 2005. Legislation for a city of Stonecrest is awaiting final votes at the Capitol this week.

Senate Bill 375 would have required potential cities to commission studies of their economic impact on surrounding jurisdictions, in addition to the existing mandate that they prove their ability to operate a financially sustainable government.

The bill would have also set a two-year legislative process before a city could be approved, and referendums on cityhood would have always been held during November elections.

» INTERACTIVE: Learn more about the effects of cityhood in Fulton and DeKalb

House Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Rynders said he didn’t think the measure was necessary.

Despite contentious cityhood debates, like last year’s over the borders of Tucker and LaVista Hills, communities seeking to incorporate have successfully navigated the legislative process and then held referendums. Voters approved Tucker and narrowly rejected LaVista Hills in November.

“I don’t know why we need to put in statute something that’s clearly working,” said Rynders, R-Albany. “I’m about less government, not more.”

The group that represents Georgia’s 159 counties, The Association County Commissioners of Georgia, advocated for passage of more rigorous cityhood creation rules.

Cities shift political power, taxes and government services away from counties, and the extent of those changes often aren’t clear as lawmakers are evaluating cityhood proposals, said Todd Edwards, associate legislative director for ACCG.

“These are real issues with real impacts on Georgia taxpayers – not only those within any new city created, but for the county and nearby cities as well,” Edwards said.

Counties outside of metro Atlanta are also concerned about the potential for more cities to be formed, he said. Proposals for the cities of Sharon Springs in Forsyth County and St. Simons in Glynn County didn’t advance in the Georgia General Assembly this year.

In addition, the cityhood legislation called for an evaluation of how a new city would affect its county’s pension liabilities. That’s an issue in DeKalb County, where Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur, had proposed House Bill 711 to make residents of recently formed cities pay a share of pension debts that are now largely borne by residents left in the county’s unincorporated areas. HB711 stalled in this year’s legislative session.

Several city mayors opposed the pension measure, which could have been attached to SB375 if it had moved forward.

“This is another attempt by the county to burden those who live in cities with a financial obligation they created through neglect and poor policy decisions,” said Chamblee Mayor Eric Clarkson.

Sen. Steve Gooch, the sponsor of SB375, said his goal wasn’t to stop cities from being created but to provide more information before decisions were made.

“People who are going to vote on a new city should know how it’s going to affect their communities,” said Gooch, R-Dahlonega. “They don’t need to rush into a new city and not know about some of these unintended consequences.”


Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Georgia Politics

Georgia resets rules on voter challenges after a town got it wrong
Georgia resets rules on voter challenges after a town got it wrong

A recent string of problems over how local officials challenged the registration of Georgia voters can be summed up in the curt, one-page letter that arrived mid-July at Jennifer Hill’s home near Savannah. Even though she had lived there for three years, the tiny town of Thunderbolt wanted Hill to prove her residency because her name did...
Lawmakers begin talks about how to replace Georgia’s aging vote system
Lawmakers begin talks about how to replace Georgia’s aging vote system

A handful of lawmakers began the discussion Friday about what it might take to move Georgia to a new election system, an important but incremental step toward replacing the state’s aging voting machines. The meeting of the state House Science and Technology Committee represents a start. Any decision will likely take a few years and, depending...
Graham-Cassidy obscures deadlines for other key actions on health care
Graham-Cassidy obscures deadlines for other key actions on health care

Nearly one hundred and fifty million dollars to keep Georgia hospitals’ indigent care afloat. Funding for the PeachCare program that along with Medicaid covers about half of Georgia’s kids. Clear answers on Obamacare subsidies that Blue Cross said it needed to keep selling individual plans in metro Atlanta. Those are some things that Congress...
Georgia ethics panel to begin auditing candidates in governor’s race
Georgia ethics panel to begin auditing candidates in governor’s race

After years of mainly investigating issues raised by Georgians, the state’s ethics watchdog agency plans to aggressively audit campaign filings from all the major statewide races coming up. Stefan Ritter, the executive secretary of the ethics commission, said that while some details still have to be worked out, the agency will be auditing the...
From the Right, the advice for Trump is to try diplomacy
From the Right, the advice for Trump is to try diplomacy

A roundup of editorials Friday looks at the idea that kicking North Korea out of the UN would go a long way toward helping the current situation, and that having President Donald Trump negotiate instead of threaten would be the best move to make.  Here are some opinions from the Right. From The Wall Street Journal: If the world community is serious...
More Stories