Vote on new city is Tuesday

Mon, 09/17/2007 - 8:46am
By: Ben Nelms

The day of reckoning is down to the wire. Voters in unincorporated south Fulton will go to the polls Sept. 18 to make a decision on forming the city of South Fulton. The referendum is the last of five such moves inside Fulton County. Previous votes by unincorporated residents resulted in the formation of the cities of Chattahoochee Hill Country, John’s Creek, Milton and Sandy Springs.

A flurry of community meetings this week at locations around the proposed city included those in the Oakley and Old National Highway areas. And as has become customary during the past year, a nearly inexhaustible number of topics were discussed. Addressing Oakley residents Sept. 10, Fulton County Commissioner Bill Edwards questioned the new city’s ability to function beginning at its inception in December. He questioned budgetary issues and the manner in which the city would provide fiscal stability.

“So how will you get revenues for nine months before collecting taxes for the first year?” Edwards asked. “I can guarantee you one thing. Your taxes will go up.”

Also at the Oakley meeting, South Fulton Concerned Citizens (SFCC) President Benny Crane said residents would be in no better shape by remaining unincorporated, suggesting that county Special Service District (SSD) taxes paid by incorporated residents would likely increase due to the current deficit in the county’s SSD budget and a diminishing ability to replenish that budget. Remaining unincorporated will result in higher taxes or a reduction of services, Crane said.

Much has been made in recent months of public safety protection from police officers and firefighters. Edwards and Crane clearly come from opposing points of view, with each insisting that the other’s service budget can adequately provide those services. Crane pointed to the new city’s budget that would include more public safety employees than are currently stationed in unincorporated areas, while Edwards questioned the sufficiency of the new city’s budget to actually provide those services.

“I’ve seen a budget but I haven’t seen a plan,” Edwards said.

In a now-familiar response, Crane questioned the county’s current level of service to unincorporated residents, stating the neither the county nor opponents of the proposed city have generated a plan to address a positive and progressive future for south Fulton.

Edwards reminded residents that they have a future in Fulton County regardless the outcome of the Sept. 18 vote.

“If you become a city Fulton County doesn’t go away,” Edwards said. “I want you to go forward, no matter how you vote.”

Edwards also took the occasion near the end of the meeting to ask Oakley residents to vote “no” on Sept. 18.

The Old National meeting Thursday was one of the infrequent occasions where Edwards did not attend. Speaking at that meeting on behalf of the city of South Fulton were SFCC members from various locations around the expansive city. Michael Venable, from the Old National Highway area, provided an overview of the referendum and answered numerous questions on issues such as city boundaries, Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) revenues the city would receive, annexations by existing cities in 2006 and area representation on the Fulton County Board of Commissioners. Also speaking were Cliftondale representative Ben Dye, who addressed issues such as zoning and development and Fulton Industrial Boulevard (FIB) representative Susan Harden, who said area business owners want the new city voted in.

“They are in favor of the city of South Fulton,” Harden said. “FIB businesses don’t want the status quo. That’s why we want the new city.”

More animated than usual Thursday night, Crane said the likelihood of numerous areas of the proposed city being annexed by existing cities if the vote fails is without question. Crane asked Old National residents if they would rather have their own city or become residents of East Point, College Park, Union City or Atlanta.

And in a comment directed at Edwards, Crane commented that county commissioners on the north side of Fulton County supported the efforts of residents when they formed three new cities, asking why the same was not true in south Fulton.

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