Cityhood for Eagle’s Landing could mean bigger bills for Stockbridge

If Eagle's Landing becomes Henry County's fifth city this fall by annexing part of Stockbridge, the remaining residents could be on the hook for $13 million in bond debt repayments.

Stockbridge owes about $13 million in urban and development bonds and $1.5 million in water and sewer bonds, but Eagle’s Landing would not inherit that debt, even though the new hamlet is the beneficiary of some of the sewer or redevelopment improvements, Stockbridge leaders and bond experts say.

“The debt obligations that the city of Stockbridge has currently would not be transferred over to the proposed new city of Eagle’s Landing,” Stockbridge City Manager Randy Knighton said.

How existing bond debt is handled is another consideration in the debate over the ramifications of Eagle's Landing cityhood. Stockbridge's leaders anticipate losing 9,000 residents if Eagle's Landing becomes a city, along with half of the community's commercial tax base.

Residents of Stockbridge, Eagle’s Landing and unincorporated Henry County who will live in the boundaries of the proposed new city will vote on the measure on Nov. 6.

Already, Stockbridge has spent more than $185,000 this year fighting Eagle’s Landing cityhood, according to figures provided to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through an open records request. More than half of the money — $123,000 — was spent on lobbyists from Massey Watson & Hembree and Melvin Weaver Consulting to represent Stockbridge during the General Assembly. Attorneys fees constituted about $45,000 while the city spent close to $15,000 on mail inserts, fliers, T-shirts, buttons and other marketing materials.

“When a city is put in a position to fight for itself, then they are supposed to look for people who can lobby for their position under the Gold Dome,” said Stockbridge Assistant City Manager Camilla Moore, who called the costs nominal.

Vikki Consiglio, a leader in the Eagle’s Landing cityhood, said Stockbridge cannot claim poverty while spending thousands on lobbying.

She also pushed back on suggestions the new city to contribute to Stockbridge bond debt, should voters approve Eagle’s Landing’s incorporation.

“If they want us to share the debt, then shouldn’t they share the city’s surplus with us,” she said. “It goes both ways.”

Bond issuers have warned that Georgia could pay higher costs on debt if de-annexations catch on and lead to instability in tax bases across the state.

Bills to de-annex Stockbridge and allow for a Eagle's Landing cityhood vote were signed by Gov. Nathan Deal last week.  Ratings agency Moody's expressed its concerns in an analysis Monday, saying Stockbridge's credit rating could suffer because the legislation did not contain language to reapportion outstanding debt if a city's tax base is diminished under de-annexation.

“The bills are also credit negative for local governments in Georgia generally because they establish a precedent that the state can act to divide local tax bases, potentially lowering the credit quality of one city for the benefit of another,” Moody’s noted.

Eagle’s Landing would have a median family income of $74,000 while Stockbridge’s median would drop to $56,000 or less, the group noted. Consiglio said Eagle’s Landing’s median income would be substantially higher at about $128,000

“De-annexation would leave Stockbridge with a smaller and less wealthy tax base and may force it to renegotiate its contractual obligations,” Moody’s wrote.

The story so far:

Why Eagle's Landing is pushing for cityhood: Residents say they want to parks, senior facilities and better retail than Stockbridge is not providing.

What Stockbridge stands to lose: Lucrative businesses along the Ga. 138 corridor and taxes from 9,000 residents So far, Stockbridge has spent more than $185,000 battling Eagle's Landing cityhood efforts.

What's next: Residents in Stockbridge, Eagle's Landing and unincorporated Henry County will vote Nov. 6 on whether their community should be a city. Stockbridge has hired lawyers for a potential lawsuit, but nothing has been filed.