For the second year in a row, Gov. Nathan Deal has vetoed legislation that would let the year-old city of South Fulton absorb the 7.5 square miles of commercial and industrial land known as Fulton Industrial.
A 1979 local amendment to the state constitution restricts the area from being annexed by any city.
Deal signed legislation that would let Fulton County residents vote to lift the restriction. That measure will be on the ballot in November. But he vetoed legislation that would have also made the now-unincorporated area part of South Fulton.
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If voters approve lifting the restriction, the move will likely escalate a tug-of-war over land in the last unincorporated part of Fulton County as neighboring jurisdictions rush to annex the area, parcel by parcel.
Atlanta for years has tried get around the ban, going to the state supreme court in an attempt to get permission to annex land there. The case was dismissed because it asked for a ruling before it had actually annexed any property. But the city renewed its efforts.
In a statement explaining his veto, Deal said he thinks Fulton residents should vote on whether the area can be part of any city before deciding what city it should go to. He pointed out that the area consists mostly of commercial and residential properties, with few residents.
Odie Donald, the South Fulton city manager, said he was disappointed with the governor’s decision, but felt that the ability to have a county-wide vote gave South Fulton the chance to educate residents about the benefit of the district becoming part of the new city. If it is annexed by Atlanta, he said, the Fulton County school system is likely to lose about $7 million in tax revenue that now comes from the area, but would be transferred to the Atlanta Public Schools.
“What’s good for South Fulton is also good for the county,” he said. “There are unintended consequences of losing Fulton Industrial.”
Before the veto, Fulton County Commission Chairman Robb Pitts sent Deal a letter, urging him to sign the legislation. In it, Pitts said he believed putting Fulton Industrial into the new city “would strengthen” South Fulton and was in the best interest of Fulton County. Donald said the district would bring in an estimated $6.5 million in tax revenue for South Fulton and having the corridor in its tax base would allow the city to accelerate some of its plans.
Gil Prado, the executive director of the area’s community improvement district, did not return a phone call seeking comment. A spokesperson for the city of Atlanta also did not respond to a request for comment about that city’s plans in the area.
Rep. Roger Bruce, D-South Fulton and the legislation’s sponsor, said he expects Atlanta to try to annex land if the restriction is lifted. But, Bruce said, he was not aware of any businesses that wanted to be in Atlanta instead of South Fulton.
“If everybody does what they say they’re going to do, there’s going to be a positive end to it,” he said.