Senators explore pros, cons of cityhood
Ken Watts | 9/27/2013, 6:02 a.m.
LITHONIA DeKalb state senators and representatives examining cityhood for groups seeking it in South DeKalb got an earful from residents at a Sept. 24 Senate hearing.
Opinions ranged from self-determination now to calls for an examination of the impact on the county from the recent spate of new cities in North DeKalb.
Some residents said they didn’t begin to see elected officials in their neighborhoods until they wanted to incorporate.
Joel Thibodeaux, who has lived in the Stonecrest area for 11 years and in the county for 25 years, said he favors a city of Stonecrest over a city of DeKalb that would take in most of the county’s unincorporated areas.
“A city of DeKalb would just transfer a big central government to a lower level,” said Thibodeaux, one of nearly 70 people in the audience. “Stonecrest City would give us a chance to maximize our assets – available land and established neighborhoods – with targeted development.”
Former DeKalb CEO Vernon Jones said groups forming cities always underestimate the cost of running them.
“Any new city won’t be able to provide the service for what they say they are going to,” he said.
Sen. Ronald Ramsey, who represents District 43, hosted the meeting in preparation for the next legislative session that starts in January. He filed placeholder Senate Bill 277 for a city of DeKalb and Senate Bill 278 for a city of Stonecrest at the end of the last legislative session in March.
Ramsey was joined at the hearing by Sens. Gail Davenport (District 44), Steve Henson (District 41) and Gloria Butler (District 55).
State Reps. Pam Stephenson, Dee Dawkins Haigler, Tonya Peterson Anderson and Coach Williams also were in attendance.
The residents were seeking to influence lawmakers who will craft cityhood legislation in the next General Assembly and vote on whether any of the proposals should be put on referendum ballots in 2014.
The lawmakers also heard presentations from Tom Gehl of the Georgia Municipal Association, Stonecrest Alliance President Jason Lary, interim DeKalb CEO Lee May, and Lithonia Mayor Deborah Jackson.
Gehl said cities need a healthy mix of residential and commercial in the tax base to survive and noted that the new cities in DeKalb have all started with caps on their millage rates.
“They are now finding that they are hamstrung by these caps,” he said, noting that one was recently faced with paying higher interest rates on money it was borrowing because the bond market felt its ability to pay back the loan would be hampered by the millage cap.
May asked the legislators to consider a two-year moratorium on new cityhood proposals so the effects on the county can be studied.
He said he doesn’t oppose those who want to form cities but wants the General Assembly to reform the process to make it less damaging to counties. He said tax revenue losses to newly formed cities Dunwoody and Brookhaven make it harder for the county to maintain its infrastructure and that cities disproportionately share in HOST revenues, leaving the county with little funds to maintain county roads and other infrastructure.