The movement to create a city of East Cobb cleared one of its last major hurdles Thursday, all but assuring residents will get to vote on whether to incorporate a new local government during the May 2022 primary.
The Republican-controlled Georgia state Senate approved the measure 31-18, over the objections of Democrats and county officials who said the proposed city was being rushed to a vote without taking the potential consequences into account.
But supporters said it should be up to residents, not the legislature, to decide for themselves whether a new city should be formed.
“Ultimately, here in the General Assembly we do not create cities, we only create the opportunity for the citizens to vote,” said state Sen. John Albers (R-Roswell).
With an estimated population of more than 50,000 people, the proposed city of East Cobb would immediately become one of the three largest in the county. It would cover about 25 square miles centered around Johnson Ferry Road, northeast of Marietta.
A feasibility study conducted by Georgia State University found that the new city, which is a predominantly residential suburban area, would be financially viable without raising taxes.
However, the study doesn’t take into account the financial impact it would have on county services. Cobb faces as many as four cityhood movements this year, three of which were brought by areas that are wealthier, whiter and more conservative than the county at large.
County officials have not completed a financial impact study of their own, and say they won’t have time to do so before the May election.
Cobb election officials have also pleaded with state lawmakers to push the referendum back to November as initially planned, saying they don’t have enough staff to manage multiple cityhood votes on top of the administrative work needed to handle redistricting before the May primary.
“There’s no reason that I can see that we need to work on this rushed schedule,” said state Sen. Michelle Au (D-Johns Creek).
State Rep. Ed Setzler, bill’s lead Republican sponsor after Rep. Matt Dollar resigned, defended moving up the election, saying it would ensure higher turnout in November, when residents of the new city would be able to vote for their first city council. However, fewer voters are likely to show up in May to determine whether to form the city in the first place.
The Senate made a minor change to the version that passed the House in January, clarifying that council members under the proposed government would have to live in the district they represent, even though they are elected citywide. If the House agrees to the change as expected, it would go to the governor’s desk to be signed into law.
Supporters of the East Cobb movement say they want local control of issues they care about most — chiefly planning and zoning. After Democrats took control of the county commission in 2020, residents of Cobb’s suburban and rural areas say they’ve become increasingly afraid of developers making their communities more urbanized.
If approved by the voters living within its boundaries, the city would also provide code enforcement, fire and police services and a parks and recreation department.