East Cobb cityhood proposal passes House committee

Credit: Matt Bruce

Credit: Matt Bruce

The effort to create a new city of East Cobb cleared a key legislative hurdle on Thursday, setting the stage for a possible voter referendum in November 2022.

If the measure, House Bill 841, is ultimately passed by both chambers of the Georgia General Assembly and signed into law, it would give voters a chance to incorporate what would become Cobb County’s third largest city, with a population of over 50,000 residents.

The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Matt Dollar, a Republican who represents the area, passed the House Governmental Affairs Committee with bipartisan support, over the objections of Cobb County officials who requested more time to study what it would mean for county services. While a study by the Center for State and Local Finance found that the city would be financially feasible, no study has been done to assess the impact to Cobb County of losing the wealthy area from its tax base — on top of three other cityhood proposals in the works.

Supporters of the cityhood movement said it would give them local control over issues they care about — chiefly zoning and redevelopment, although the city would also provide police, fire and code enforcement services.

At a subcommittee hearing earlier this week, some residents worried about the suburban area losing its character as the county changes around it, while others complained that the county’s current Board of Commissioners was unresponsive to their needs.

“I’m just not getting the engagement or the representation that I’m looking for,” said Cindy Cooperman, an organizer for the campaign supporting East Cobb cityhood.

At 25 square miles, East Cobb would be the county’s largest by land area, and third most populous behind Marietta and Smyrna. The community is whiter and wealthier than the county as a whole, which in 2020 flipped to Democratic control for the first time in recent memory.

Several Democrats opposed the measure, questioning whether the city would provide fair representation to those who live there. The city council’s six members would all be elected citywide, although three would have to live in different residential zones.

Rep. Teri Anulewicz, a Democrat from nearby Smyrna, said that as a result, a majority of the council could come from a single neighborhood.

“That, my friends, is not a city,” Anulewicz said. “That is an HOA,” meaning a homeowners association.

Meanwhile, Cobb County officials questioned the quality of the services the new city would receive — and how much Cobb County would be required to help out, even as East Cobb contributed less in taxes. Public Safety Director Randy Crider said East Cobb has just two fire stations within its proposed city limits, which could leave it unable to respond to major fires across its large area. Smyrna and Marietta have five and six fire stations, respectively.

Rep. Ed Setzler, an Acworth Republican who co-sponsored the bill, countered that the lack of fire stations in East Cobb suggests the area hasn’t received its fair share of county services. “I believe local representation is very important to give credible representation,” Setzler said.