A group trying to break off Buckhead from Atlanta released a feasibility study that claims an independent city could raise more than $200 million a year in revenue, with almost $114 million in surplus.
The Buckhead City Committee commissioned Valdosta State University’s Center for South Georgia Regional Impact for the study, which asserts the proposed “Buckhead City” could be financially feasible.
The study outlines a structure for the new city, comparing its expenses to similar-sized cities including Sandy Springs and Roswell. The study area represented 25 square miles in Buckhead with almost 104,000 residents, or about 20 percent of Atlanta’s population. Read it here.
State law requires a feasibility study for legislation proposing incorporation to be considered. Supporters of the cityhood effort are hoping to get legislation passed at the Georgia General Assembly next year, which would place a referendum on the November 2022 ballot allowing Buckhead residents to vote on whether to form a new city.
The feasibility study doesn’t address the financial impact that forming a new city could have on Atlanta. But Buckhead City Committee in a press release claimed that only 6% of Atlanta’s annual operating budget (combining both the city and schools) would be required to manage a new city.
“We’ve been saying all along that taxes paid to the City of Atlanta have not generated a fair return for Buckhead in terms of city services,” Bill White, CEO of the Buckhead City Committee, said in the press release. “Given the same tax revenue, the administration of Buckhead City would deliver more and better services to the people of Buckhead, starting with a highly effective and properly compensated police force with a minimum of 250 officers.”
Opponents say Buckhead breaking off would be detrimental to Atlanta.
Jim Durrett, executive director of the Buckhead Community Improvement District and president of the Buckhead Coalition, called the feasibility study from the Buckhead City Committee a check-the-box study that was overly simplistic.
“The report takes an overly simple approach, and does not account for the multiple, extreme complexities arising from this de-annexation and incorporation,” Durrett said. “The study did not examine the impact of de-annexing Buckhead on the City of Atlanta. It would be devastating to the city’s finances, residents, and the business community. A report will be released tomorrow demonstrating the likely adverse impacts to not only Atlanta but to Buckhead.”
The Committee for a United Atlanta on Monday released a statement, citing issues for Buckhead residents if a new city formed such as increased taxes, challenges with the public school system, responsibility for underfunded pension obligations, damaged business investments and greater social unrest.
“Unlike forming a city out of unincorporated parts of a county, like Sandy Springs or Brookhaven, de-annexing part of a big city has never been done before and will set a dangerous precedent,” said the committee, which is chaired by Linda Klein and Edward Lindsey. “Other neighborhoods in cities throughout Georgia may suddenly decide to break up key parts of their city.”
The feasibility study from Valdosta State University estimates the proposed Buckhead City could generate about $120 million of its roughly $200 million in annual revenue from property taxes. It says the city’s total expenses would be just under $90 million per year, with the biggest chunk ($30 million) allocated to fund its police department, which is proposed to have 250 law enforcement officers.
The proposed city would have its own mayor, city council, city administration, fire department, municipal courts, parks department and public works department. But it would continue to utilize, through taxes and fees, the Atlanta Public Schools, city services such as water and trash collection, and Fulton County libraries, according to the Buckhead City Committee.
The cityhood effort has gained recent supporters, including Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black, who held a press conference Sept. 13 at the scene of a shooting at the Peachtree Battle shopping center.
State Sen. Clint Dixon, floor leader for Gov. Brian Kemp, also recently co-sponsored the cityhood legislation.
“People deserve to live without fear as they drive down the road or walk in a mall,” Dixon said in a press release. “The City of Atlanta has failed in epic proportions, and Buckhead has every right and reason to form a city with a strong police force and real leadership.”
The Buckhead City Committee had been secretive about who was conducting its feasibility study, and institutions including University of Georgia’s Vinson Institute had declined to perform the study. Previously, only a select group of schools could perform the studies. But the Georgia House Committee on Governmental Affairs recently changed the rules, allowing any qualified University System of Georgia Institution to conduct the study.
Update: This story was updated with additional comments from Jim Durrett.