Three Georgia state senators have announced support for a group trying to break off Buckhead from Atlanta, citing crime as a major factor.
The Buckhead City Committee – the group spearheading the effort for Buckhead to become its own city – held a press conference at Loudermilk Park in Buckhead on Sept. 29. During the conference, State Sen. Burt Jones (R-Jackson), State Sen. Greg Dolezal (R-Cumming), and State Sen. Randy Robertson (R-Cataula) all announced they would support legislation that, if passed, would place a referendum on the November 2022 ballot allowing Buckhead residents to vote on whether to form a new city.
Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta), an original supporter of the legislation, said there will be committee hearings on the Buckhead City feasibility study during the upcoming special session, which starts in November. The legislation is expected to be discussed during next year’s Georgia General Assembly.
Each senator cited policing and crime as one of the reasons for their support.
Jones said he was in support of the legislation because it would allow Buckhead residents to “determine their own future.” He and other senators, along with Buckhead City Committee leaders who spoke, brought up the impact of crime in Buckhead as a major reason for advocating for separation.
“I don’t blame the [Atlanta Police Department],” Jones said. “Those are good men and women at the APD … but their morale is at an all-time low.”
Buckhead City Committee CEO Bill White said that Buckhead residents are living in a “warzone,” and said the murder rate in Buckhead is up 140% since 2019, while shootings are up 170%.
But according to recent data from the Atlanta Police Department, Zone 2 has recorded nine homicides as of Sept. 25, 2021. Zone 2 covers areas including Buckhead. During the same period of time, there were six homicides in 2020, which represents a 50% increase in 2021. There were also six homicides in 2019 during the same time period.
The APD has recorded 121 homicides so far this year in the entire city of Atlanta, compared to 98 in 2020 and 72 in 2019.
The APD also tracks recorded shooting incidents for the year. As of Sept. 25, Zone 2 recorded 50 shootings so far in 2021, compared to 34 in 2020 and 21 in 2019 for the same period of time. The 2021 stats represent a 47% increase from 2020 and a 138% increase from 2019.
The APD has recorded 577 shootings citywide in 2021, compared to 462 in 2020 and 358 in 2019. APD statistics also show that out of Atlanta’s six zones, Zone 2 has reported the lowest numbers of homicides and shootings in 2021.
When asked about these statistics, White responded in email with a screenshot of an Instagram post from June 13. The screenshot showed a news report that said in June of this year, murders in Zone 2 were up by 133% from 2019, and shootings were up by 164%.
According to data from the APD, this percent change in homicides in Zone 2 amounts to an increase from three in 2019 to seven in 2021. The percent change in shootings in Zone 2 amounts to 11 in 2019 to 29 in 2021. The June data is not the most recent available.
White said it was hard to keep track of new statistics coming in.
“When there’s been more shootings and murders in Buckhead, it’s hard to keep track of the statistics, it really is,” he said. “The point is … someone is being shot and aggravated assault is occuring.”
Spokesperson Billy Linville for The Committee for a United Atlanta – the opposition group against Buckhead cityhood – said the answer to any sort of rise in crime would be best addressed at the polls.
“We do have an election for mayor and new City Council coming up in just a matter of weeks,” Linville said. “That’s where Buckhead residents need to focus, on electing a mayor who will improve city services and who will tackle violent crime.”
Two state legislators, Rep. Todd Jones (R-South Forsyth) and Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta), initially filed legislation for Buckhead cityhood in March of 2021. During the press conference, White said 12 state senators in total have voiced support for the legislation.
According to the Buckhead City Committee, in addition to Beach, Jones, Dolezal, and Robertson, the senators are Clint Dixon (R-Gwinnett), Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega), Lee Anderson (R-Grovetown), Matt Brass (R-Newnan), Carden Summers (R-Cordele), Chuck Payne (R-Dalton), Marty Harbin (R-Tyrone), and Tyler Harper (R-Ocilla). Although the Buckhead City Committee claims to be nonpartisan, all of the supporting senators are Republicans and none of them represent the city of Atlanta or Buckhead.
White spoke at the press conference about the committee’s recently completed feasibility study, which claims that an independent Buckhead City could raise almost $200 million a year in revenue. In a release sent out after the press conference, White said cityhood would allow for a more prosperous Buckhead.
“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,” White said in the press release. “Those involved in the Buckhead City movement love Atlanta, and we’re certain that this incorporation will make the entire metropolitan region safer and more prosperous.”
However, opponents of cityhood say the net fiscal loss to Atlanta could range from $80 million to $116 million per year if Buckhead were to break away. A study paid for by the Buckhead Coalition and distributed by the Committee for a United Atlanta predicted that if Buckhead splits, Atlanta and Buckhead residents would see increased taxes.
“Buckhead residents would pay more in taxes for water and sewer, and they would be responsible for a massive amount of bond and pension obligations,” Linville said.
Rep. Betsy Holland (D-Atlanta) said eliminating tax revenue from Buckhead to the city of Atlanta would have a negative impact on the rest of the city in terms of its services.
“In an effort to make Buckhead safer by shifting those dollars to hire extra police, this movement will make the rest of Atlanta unsafe by moving funds away from the APD,” Holland said in an emailed statement. “I want to feel safe going for a walk in Chastain Park, but I also want to feel safe in Piedmont Park. We can’t take funding away from one area to fortify another – it will have a negative impact on public safety all around.”