New city isn’t only choice for some south Fulton residents

For nearly a decade, metro Atlantans — eager to control zoning and improve services — have created a slew of new cities out of formless suburbs.

Soon, more than 90,000 residents of south Fulton County may get a chance to create a city out of their own vast neighborhoods and business districts. But even as they ponder that possibility, other cities are eyeing some the same neighborhoods.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has courted residents of the unincorporated Sandtown community, offering a 10-year property tax freeze if they join the city. Other cities also have annexations in the works.

Supporters of the proposed city in south Fulton which covers 105 square miles and stretches from Atlanta to Chattahoochee Hills and from College Park to the Douglas County linesay such annexations will not adversely affect their plans. But the prospect of existing cities gobbling up prime neighborhoods and commercial property adds another element of intrigue to a regional incorporation movement that already has seen plenty.

State Rep. Roger Bruce and Sen. Donzella James – both Atlanta Democrats – plan to introduce legislation that would permit south Fulton residents to vote on forming a city sometime next year. A similar bill passed the House this year but died without a vote on the Senate floor.

It’s unclear how many residents or businesses would prefer to join an existing city. Already this year, Union City has annexed about nine acres of commercial property. The city is in the process of annexing another 21 acres along Stonewall Tell Road that would be use for a proposed warehouse/distribution center.

“We’re not going after anyone,” Mayor Vince Williams said. “There are folks knocking on the door now. What I’ve said to folks is, we are interested. But it’s got to make sense.”

Chattahoochee Hills recently tried to annex about 9,400 acres, a mix of commercial, industrial, agricultural and residential property. The city notified Fulton County of its plans in September, but the county Board of Commissioners rejected the annexation, in part because it lacked sufficient signatures. City officials plan to resubmit a proposal to annex about 4,920 acres.

Most recently, some residents of the Sandtown community have launched a campaign to be annexed into Atlanta. They have found a willing suitor in Mayor Reed.

Because of differences in tax rates and exemptions, annexing into Atlanta would mean a tax increase for many residents. But, at a recent community meeting, Reed told residents he’d ask the City Council to keep their property taxes at their current level for 10 years. The offer was contingent upon the General Assembly passing the south Fulton incorporation bill, giving residents a clear choice between joining the new city and joining Atlanta.

Though Reed told the crowd he wasn’t there to persuade anyone to join his city, it was clear which choice he thought was best. He contrasted what he said was Atlanta’s financial strength with the uncertainties of a fledgling city.

“I think that joining a new City of South Fulton vs. the City of Atlanta, I don’t think the decision is even close,” Reed said. “I think joining a City of South Fulton would be an awful financial decision.”

Supporters of the new city disagree. They cite a January study by Georgia State University that found the new city would be financially viable. GSU found the city would have reserve balances ranging from $6.8 million to $17.5 million, depending on the level of services offered and other factors.

“I don’t have anything negative to say about the City of Atlanta. It’s a great place to live,” said Kevin Grimes, a local business owner. “I just think, based on the facts and the data, the new city is a better option than going into the City of Atlanta.”

Still, Reed’s pitch has resonated with some residents.

“Atlanta is financially stable. It has a high bond rating,” said Sandtown resident Dan Young. “It has the resources to do things that we may want to do as a community.”

Although some recent community discussions have focused on whether to join an existing city or create a new one, residents also have a third choice: to remain unincorporated. In 2007, south Fulton voters did just that, overwhelmingly rejecting a proposal to incorporate.

County Commission Chairman John Eaves supports legislation allowing residents to vote on the new city. But he said Fulton can continue providing police, fire and other services in unincorporated areas.

“For the most part, the unincorporated area still has a more than satisfactory level of services and reasonable costs,” Eaves said.

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