Legal opinion: Ga. cities control local taxes and services

Cities have the power to raise property taxes and expand services, even when their charters attempt to impose limitations, according to legal opinions prepared for Georgia senators.

The opinions, cited in this week’s final report of a Senate task force on cityhood, said the Georgia Constitution gives city councils control over local taxes and service levels. Referendums seeking voter approval aren’t required before city councils take action, the opinions say.

Cities can use their “home rule” authority to remove millage rate caps, according to a legal opinion by Deputy Legislative Counsel Jeff Lanier. Millage caps were included in the legislation that created the cities of Brookhaven, Tucker and others.

Further, the small-government “city lite” form of government, used by Peachtree Corners and Tucker, may be invalid because the Georgia Constitution enumerates powers that all cities may offer, Lanier wrote in a separate opinion. Both cities’ charters currently confine them to three main services.

“It is not possible to create a municipality in Georgia which has less than all of the powers of a full-fledged municipality,” Lanier wrote.

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If a court finds the “city lite” concept unconstitutional, the city’s charter would likely remain in existence without the limitations of power, Lanier wrote.

The legal advice came as state lawmakers are reviewing cityhood proposals for Greenhaven, Sharon Springs, South Fulton, Stonecrest and St. Simons Island.

The Senate cityhood task force recommended that legislators should pass a law requiring that potential cities evaluate their financial impact on surrounding school systems and governments, and that incorporation proposals should go through a two-year review process before they can win approval from the Georgia General Assembly.

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