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Posted: 5:20 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014

House gives South Fulton city a boost

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By David Wickert

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Plans to create the city of South Fulton took a significant step forward Thursday when the Georgia House of Representatives approved a measure that would allow voters to decide the issue.

With little discussion, representatives approved House Bill 704 by a vote of 163-2. The bill would allow South Fulton residents to vote in the May 20 primary election on whether to form the new city. It still must pass the state Senate and win the signature of Gov. Nathan Deal.

If that happens and voters approved the city, the last remnant of unincorporated Fulton County would disappear by the beginning of next year.

“Today is a good day for the citizens of unincorporated Fulton,” cityhood supporter Benny Crane said after the vote. “We’ve still got some hurdles to cross. We’re working.”

It’s far from certain the city will become a reality. Eighty-five percent of voters rejected a similar proposal in 2007. And some unincorporated residents prefer to be annexed by Atlanta or other cities.

“People don’t see any real reason to create a new political infrastructure when you have existing cities,” said Paul Young, who lives in the Sandtown community near Atlanta. “People can simply go to these other cities.”

South Fulton would have about 90,000 residents and encompass about 105 square miles, ranging from Atlanta to Chattahoochee Hills and from College Park to the Douglas County line.

Under HB 704, if voters approve the city in May, they would select a mayor and city council to lead South Fulton in November. They would take office on Jan. 1.

A recent Georgia State University study found the city would be financially viable. The study found South Fulton would generate nearly $65 million in annual property tax, sales tax and other revenue. Expenses for services like police and fire protection would be about $62 million, leaving a $3 million surplus.

Supporters say forming a city would allow residents to gain control of zoning and other decisions affecting their communities. Currently, those decisions are made by the seven-member Fulton Board of Commissioners. Most commissioners live elsewhere in the county.

But some residents have recently pursued other ways to control their destiny. On Monday, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed met with residents of the Loch Lomond Community Association, saying he’d welcome them into Atlanta.

“He gave a very forceful presentation,” said Young, who attended the meeting.

Reed spokesman Carlos Campos said Atlanta is not actively pursuing annexation.

“However, the mayor said he’s happy to entertain the idea — and would welcome them into the city — if the community is interested in pursuing it,” Campos said.

Crane worries that annexations could adversely affect South Fulton whether it incorporates or not.

“If these cities start skimming off parts of the unincorporated area, those of us who are left are going to be forced to pay more for services,” he said.

Unincorporated Fulton County has steadily shrunk since 2005, when Sandy Springs launched an incorporation boom that included Johns Creek, Milton and Chattahoochee Hills.

If South Fulton incorporated, the county would still provide a host of countywide services, including libraries, courts, elections and social services.

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