DeKalb group exploring cityhood

A group of north DeKalb County residents have formed a group to study the possibility of becoming a new city.

If the effort to establish a city of Lakeside gains traction in the General Assembly, citizens could vote as early as next year on whether to create the third new city in DeKalb and the seventh in the metro region since Sandy Springs incorporated in 2005.

The chief complaint behind Lakeside’s effort: The area is currently split between two county commissioners with reduced political clout as new cities of Dunwoody and Brookhaven have sprouted nearby.

“I personally like the idea of more local control, to know our local city councilman and mayor and make them more accountable,” said Mary Kay Woodworth, chairwoman of the newly created Lakeside City Alliance. “We don’t have a real voice at the county level.”

The proposed boundaries of the new city generally follow the neighborhoods that feed to Lakeside High School, including most of the communities near Spaghetti Junction, Northlake Mall and south to Century Center at Clairmont Road and I-285.

Missing from the city would be the Dresden East neighborhoods between Century Center and Chamblee, which last year narrowly rejected being annexed into that city. Also absent are the Leafmore and Sagamore Hills communities, which have been discussed as part of yet another city that may form.

Also unclear is if the two Democrats who represent the area in the General Assembly would introduce a bill this year to allow for a public vote. A bill must be filed this year, to allow for the two-year process of creating a city.

Democrats at the state and county levels have moved to slow the cityhood movement that has gripped the region. They argue that new cities have cherry-picked prime commercial areas and put a greater tax burden on unincorporated areas.

A bill pre-filed by state Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur, seeks to balance that complaint by requiring all new cities conduct a financial impact study on the county in which they are located and also any adjacent cities.

DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis cited House Bill 22, now in committee, as necessary to help county leaders illustrate how new cities hurt the county’s ability to pay for mandated services such as courts as well as popular programs such as libraries.

“As I said in my state of the county address two weeks ago, a fractured county will not lift us out of the economic recession,” Ellis said. “In actuality, it might place us deeper in it.”

Woodworth dismissed complaints, saying cityhood would come about only if a grassroots movement is able to succeed. Such a movement would first have to find people who would put their money behind an incorporation effort.

The nonprofit alliance must raise about $30,000 to pay for a study of the feasibility of creating a city of Lakeside.

The Carl Vinson Institute at the University of Georgia has done similar studies for other new cities, often investigating if a municipality can be financed without raising homeowners’ property taxes above current county levies.

“At the end of the day, we may find it’s not economically feasible,” Woodworth said. “But in order to determine our own destiny, we need to see what can be done differently so this remains a great neighborhood 10, 20, 30 years in the future.”

What’s next: The Lakeside City Alliance will hold an informational meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Lakeside High School. The meeting is open to the public.

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