South Fulton cityhood doesn’t get off the ground for second year

A proposal that would have let South Fulton residents vote on whether to become a city failed Tuesday for the second year in a row when it was voted down in committee.

That likely spells doom for the bill, HB 514, which was defeated 3-2 in a partisan vote in the Senate’s State and Local Governmental Operations committee.

“Nothing’s going to happen from this point,” said Sen. Horacena Tate, D-Atlanta, who voted in favor of the bill. “It’s dead.”

Without a cityhood vote on the table, that makes it more likely that neighboring cities will try to annex pieces of South Fulton.

Atlanta had put forth a proposal that would have divvied up the South Fulton territory among neighboring cities. But at a Thursday meeting of the Fulton County legislative delegation, Rep. Chuck Martin, R-Alpharetta, told an Atlanta representative to back off for now.

He asked colleagues not to move the issue forward, and said annexations should wait until 2017.

“I think the people ought to get the opportunity to vote,” said Martin, head of the delegation.

If passed, the cityhood legislation would have allowed a referendum to incorporate into a single city the unincorporated parts of South Fulton that stretches from Atlanta to Palmetto. It is the last remaining unincorporated piece of the county.

South Fulton residents last voted on incorporation in 2007. That proposal was soundly defeated.

“It simply is an opportunity for them to decide how they want to be governed,” said Rep. Roger Bruce, D-Atlanta, who sponsored the referendum bill. “It simply gives them the opportunity to discuss the issue.”

Though the standing-room only crowd in the committee room Tuesday was vocally in favor of such a vote, Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, told committee members that to allow residents to vote would be a mistake.

A city of South Fulton would have a detrimental effect on the local option sales tax distribution for cities like East Point and College Park, Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta said. He also said his polling, from last year, showed residents did not support the referendum.

“It was a bad idea a year ago; it’s a worse idea now,” Fort said.

Fort, who stopped the Senate vote a year ago, said support has continued to erode. He estimated he represents about 35,000 residents in the unincorporated area.

Those who supported the bill said if South Fulton did not get a chance to incorporate, its most lucrative pieces would be cherry-picked and annexed into adjacent cities. They worried about rising taxes to cover the cost of providing city services. Schools could become overcrowded, they said, if Atlanta — which has its own school district — annexed school property, but not the residents who attended the schools.

The uncertainty about South Fulton’s future made it urgent that legislators act to allow a vote, said Rep. LaDawn Jones, D-Atlanta. Jones urged South Fulton residents to be vocal about what they want.

“They can’t stop, now is not the time to stop,” she said. “This should not be tolerated. It’s the worst violation of democracy I’ve ever seen.”

The three Republicans who voted in committee to oppose the referendum did not comment on their decision. Residents like Camilla Moore, a South Fulton Republican, said they were disappointed.

“I’m amazed,” Moore said. “Republicans have always supported incorporation. …They support self-governance and self determination.”

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