The summer of annexation

Ben Nelms's picture

History is being made all around South Fulton County these days. And that history is composed of three phases. One has come and gone, one is in process and the third will come next year.

The first was the near unanimous votes by the House and Senate to give residents of unincorporated South Fulton County the opportunity to vote on whether to form two new cities, for the time being called South Fulton and Chattahoochee Hills. In North Fulton, the Milton and John’s Creek communities will vote to become cities three months from now. Both measures will pass.

The second phase involves the General Assembly’s move to give the existing cities of South Fulton the opportunity to annex until the end of October. That move is triggering the largest attempted land grab on this side of the Universe. Unannounced at this point are the plans of Fairburn, East Point and College Park. Union City and Palmetto, on the other hand, quickly produced maps indicating their intentions. Union City will attempt to add 7,000 acres to its current 5,428-acre city. Palmetto’s map shows a proposed area that will more than double the size of the existing city.

It’s understandable that cities will try to increase their size. After all, that’s what cities do to increase their tax base since it’s usually more prominent on the conventional wisdom scale to build out rather than up. And along those lines, the cities know that whatever land they have not encompassed by October 30 will be gone forever if Chattahoochee Hills and South Fulton residents choose to incorporate. Without the vote next June, cities could take all the time they need. But due to the vote and the possibility of incorporation, it’s now or never.

The third phase will come in June 2007, when residents of the unincorporated areas will go to the polls, either to create Georgia’s two newest cities or remain unincorporated. Given the growing dissatisfaction “out in the county” with increasing Special Service District taxes and diminishing services, runaway development receiving the county’s blessing and with South Fulton directly electing only one of the seven commissioners, it will be no surprise if unincorporated residents vote themselves two, brand new cities. As you can see, the stakes are high. And, as usual, there is more to the story.

The rest of this historic story comes in two parts, each with a number of subsets too involved to process fully in this column. But that’s okay, since there is a volume of time to return to this page in coming weeks and months. One part of the story, the one for today, the one most time-sensitive, involves the existing cities and their annexation intentions. Given the sheer mass of land so far identified for potential annexation, those possible acquisitions generate some questions that city officials all over South Fulton County will no doubt be able to answer in short order. Perhaps the biggest questions of all are, what amount of existing services will be provided to the newly annexed areas and when will those services commence? These questions must be answered so that those areas targeted for annexation can be informed ahead of time, and sufficiently so to determine whether they want to join the ranks or be able to vote in June 2007. But there is more. And it involves existing city residents and those that are annexed. (Successful annexation requires the approval of the owners of 60 percent of the land and the approval of 60 percent of registered voters.)

Those areas annexed will not pay city taxes until late in 2007, thus effectively going a year inside city limits. In the mean time, the cities will have to provide services to (assuming they annex everything they want) an incredibly larger land mass than is currently served. So the question is, where will that money come from? The short answer is that it can come from reserve funds that may already exist or it can come from funds borrowed to cover the additional expense or it can come from a millage increase to current property owners with the promise of a rollback later. I suppose there is the unlikely option of decreasing some city services in order to funnel those funds to departments needed for basic services. Of course, none of this would be an issue if the areas to be annexed were a subdivision or two or three or four or five. At issue is the doubling or tripling the size of cities, no small matter when it comes to providing services. Regardless how service provision is to be accomplished, the people deserve to know the plans for their future and those plans must be transparent.

And no matter what, it will be intriguing to see what happens during the Summer of Annexation.

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