I currently have the honor of serving as the chairman of the Georgia Senate Committee on annexation, de-annexation and municipal incorporation. I sponsored the legislation forming this study committee, S.R. 609, after having witnessed firsthand the confusing, chaotic and all-too-divisive efforts to create the new DeKalb cities of Brookhaven, LaVista Hills and Tucker.
The current General Assembly process that gets to a referendum on the formation of a new city could almost be described as ad-hoc. The lack of a formal process leads to the results being even more political than typical legislation taken up by the General Assembly, and this does a disservice to Georgia residents.
The time for thinking “this is the last new city so we don’t need a real process to cope with this” is over. A new city is proposed even in Forsyth County, and there is talk of several others. It is time for the Legislature to come up with a fair, less political, more transparent process that serves Georgians better.
At our first hearing, we heard testimony from the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, who represent Georgia’s counties, and the Georgia Municipal Association, representing Georgia’s cities. At our second hearing, we heard from the Andrew Young School at Georgia State and the Carl Vinson Institute for Government at the University of Georgia (CVI). Other knowledgeable groups have presented as well.
As we move toward our third meeting, some common themes are emerging.
A number of speakers have recommended that we implement a statutory process that would be more transparent and less open to manipulation.
Many have also made a recommendation that the committee consider some sort of petition threshold that must be met by a new incorporation. Georgia is one of a small minority of states that have no petition component. A petition process, suggested by CVI, would have additional benefits of ensuring that the borders of the area to be incorporated or annexed are set and can’t be changed at the last minute, leading to more certainty in attempting to conduct a feasibility study. It would also give a better measure of true grassroots support and buy-in.
Additionally, including consideration of the broader impacts of new incorporations and annexations has been repeatedly raised. The feasibility studies currently performed by GSU and CVI look at potential impact in the area to be incorporated from a revenue perspective, but no accounting is taken of the potential effects on existing cities or the county, or on school systems. School systems are impacted if an area to be annexed would change school districts, as the case would be with annexations into Decatur or Atlanta. The committee will discuss whether consideration of these impacts should be part of the process.
Other states deal with these difficult issues in a myriad of ways. Some have boundary committees or committees at the General Assembly level with professional staff to investigate the need for the city, how it will function, and impact on existing governments before making a recommendation on a new incorporation. Most have a statutory process with a list of factors to be considered. Most all require petitions.
At our third and fourth meetings, we will flesh out these themes, hear public comment, hear recommendation and deliberate. The third meeting is on Oct. 21 from 2 to 5 p.m. and the final meeting will be Nov. 3 from 9 a.m. to noon.
I am grateful to my committed colleagues, including Sen. Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody), for serving on the study committee, and hope that we can adopt a process that will serve our citizens and our collective future better – no matter where we live.
Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta) represents District 42 in the Georgia Senate. Her district covers much of central DeKalb County and takes in a portion of Brookhaven.