Townships proposed as an alternative to cities in Georgia

Georgia lawmakers are discussing a novel concept for the state: townships.

Townships would be like cities in that they'd give communities more local control of their governments, but without the services and cost of full-blown municipalities.

State legislators introduced bills in the House and the Senate this week to allow the creation of townships instead of cities. Eight cities have been incorporated in metro Atlanta since Sandy Springs incorporated in 2005.

The powers of townships would be limited to land use, planning and zoning, with property tax rates capped at 0.5 mills. Townships would continue to rely on county governments to provide services like police, fire, water, sewer, libraries, parks and roads.

A township form of governance could be an alternative for the proposed cities of Sharon Springs in Forsyth County and St. Simons Island in Glynn County.

“Our state needs a township model where local citizens can vote to create a community and exercise zoning authority without taking on the services and tax burdens of a full city,” said Rep. Mike Dudgeon, R-Johns Creek.

A Senate task force that recently reviewed Georgia's process of forming cities recommended studying townships.

“I am pleased to introduce this legislation that will allow us the opportunity to explore the feasibility of this kind of incorporation on St. Simons Island,” said Sen. William Ligon, R-Brunswick.

The idea of creating townships has been gaining momentum after several legal opinions said that cities have the power to raise property taxes and expand services, even when their charters attempted to impose limitations.

Those legal concerns have led lawmakers to resist founding small "city lite" governments, such as those already created in Peachtree Corners and Tucker. Forsyth County's legislative delegation recently pulled its support for a city of Sharon Springs.

Voters would have to approve a referendum to amend the Georgia Constitution before townships could become a form of government in Georgia.

The Georgia Municipal Association, which advocates for cities, opposes the township proposals, saying communities seeking to incorporate should have the full benefits of cityhood.

Dudgeon and Ligon introduced House Bill 785, House Resolution 1051, Senate Bill 272 and Senate Resolution 724 to define townships and propose the referendum question.