Opinion: Local history shows new cities work, and counties adapt

Buckhead skyline

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Buckhead skyline

As the incorporation of the Buckhead City is under consideration in the Legislature, this is an appropriate time to discuss the new cities that have been created in Georgia since 2005.

Beginning with Sandy Springs, there have been 10 cities that have achieved incorporation. Approximately a half-million citizens (roughly the size of Atlanta) have benefitted from these efforts.

The basic principle underlying all the incorporations has been: bringing government as close to the people as possible.

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Oliver W. Porter

Credit: contributed

Oliver W. Porter

Credit: contributed

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Oliver W. Porter

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

The results have been very positive. Consider the forerunner: Sandy Springs. In the first 10 years of cityhood, the results were outstanding: 1.) Tax rates were not increased; 2.) services were improved across the board; 3.) twenty percent of the operating budgets were set aside for capital improvements (roads bridges, parks etc.); 4.) a surplus of $40 million was accrued; and 5.) of great importance, the city had no long-term debt, including no unfunded pension liabilities.

All economic classes have benefitted from low taxes and better services.

As the volunteer interim city manager, and chairman of the Governor’s Commission on Sandy Springs, I introduced the public/private partnership model for providing efficient and affordable services. The other new cities that followed the Sandy Springs model have experienced similar results of financial stability and improved services.

I then served as the principal advisor to a half-dozen new cities that followed, including: Johns Creek, Milton, Chattahoochee Hills, Dunwoody and Stonecrest. The Sandy Springs model was adopted by all these communities with good results. In 2006, I wrote a book on the model, “Creating the New City of Sandy Springs” that brought international attention to Sandy Springs.

Now, as we approach the incorporation of the Buckhead City, the same principles and practical considerations should come into play.

First, is Buckhead City financially viable? The answer is a resounding “Yes”; more so than any other of the new cities.

Second, will the citizens be given the opportunity to have better services, such as police, fire and zoning protection? Following the example of the other new cities, the answer is again – “Yes.”

Third, will citizens have more control of their government? “Yes,” instead of representing a minority vote in Atlanta, they will be 100 percent of the vote in Buckhead City.

Some have raised the issue of the impact on Atlanta. Since, for all these years, the community of Buckhead has subsidized Atlanta with tax payments that far exceed the cost of services, there is likely to be an initial impact on Atlanta’s budget. With all the other new cities, there has been a similar impact on their counties. All of these counties have survived the impact quite well, and continue to operate with the reduction in tax revenues and operating costs.

The issue finally boils down to the right of citizens to control their own destiny. The people of Buckhead should be given the opportunity to vote, to hold a referendum in 2022, and to decide on the government that is in their best interest.

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