Annexation and Cityhood FAQ

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt March 2, 2015
DeKalb County Georgia. Source: Google Maps.

DeKalb County Georgia. Source: Google Maps.

The state Legislature could soon be considering bills that would allow voters to decide whether to create new cities in DeKalb County.

There’s also a possibility that the Legislature could be taking up annexation bills on behalf of Decatur and Avondale Estates.

But what does all of this actually mean, anyway? How is a new city formed? What is annexation? How could it affect you?

In an effort to distill the process into something that’s easy to understand, Decaturish has compiled this FAQ on cityhood and annexation. We’ve run it by groups working both for and against new cities and annexation. None of the groups we showed it to raised any objections to our description of the current processes at work. We acknowledge we are not experts on parliamentary procedure or state laws.  If you see something here that needs to be revised or clarified, let us know by emailing us at editor@decaturish.com.

Editor’s note: If you choose to share this FAQ with other people, please credit us, summarize the FAQ and link back to this post. Thank you. 

Annexation and Cityhood FAQ

What is annexation? Annexation is the expansion of the boundaries of an existing city to include currently unincorporated territory.

What does unincorporated mean? Anything that is not currently in a city is considered unincorporated. Think Medlock Park, Scottdale, etc.

What is cityhood? Cityhood is a catch all for any proposal to create a new city from unincorporated territory.

How is a new city formed? Becoming a city is a complicated process, and the rules have been known to change. But the process generally works like this.

1) A group forms to propose and promote a city. Usually, that group obtains what’s known as a Fiscal Feasibility Study. Quite simply, this study means that a city will take in enough tax money to provide government services to residents. If a city is found to not be financially viable, it usually means it can’t advance in the state legislature. Two of the current cityhood proposals –Greenhaven and Stonecrest – have been deemed financially viable. The other two – LaVista Hills and Tucker – were financially viable prior to recent changes to the aps of each city. It is expected that an updated feasibility study will show they are still viable.

2) A legislator – usually from the state House – introduces a bill. The cityhood bills are introduced as general legislation.

What is general legislation? Any legislation that is introduced that does not require the approval of a majority of a legislative delegation. If a cityhood bill was local legislation, it would require the consent of nine of DeKalb’s 16 House delegation members and four of seven DeKalb County Senators to move forward. Annexation bills are local legislation.

Why are the new city bills being introduced as general legislation and annexation bills being introduced as local legislation? Annexation has always been a local issue. But new cities have been vehemently opposed by Democrats that control the delegations of some Atlanta counties. To get around this, when the Republicans took control of the Legislature they changed the rules so that city legislation could be general legislation. This is why Sandy Springs finally formed in 2005 after decades of trying to become a city. But annexation has remained local legislation.

3) A cityhood bill has to pass one chamber by March 13, the legislative Crossover Day. This is important. If the bill doesn’t pass either the house or the senate, it is dead. Important side note: Annexation bills are not bound by the crossover deadline because they are local legislation.

4) Both chambers must approve the cityhood bill with will include a date for a vote, called a referendum.

5) The governor must sign the bill.

6) The referendum must be approved by the voters.

How does annexation occur? There are actually several legal methods of annexing unincorporated property, but there is only one we need to worry about for this discussion: annexation by legislative action. The steps are similar to the creation of a city.

1) A city’s elected leaders request that the city’s legislator introduce a bill on the city’s behalf that would allow for an annexation referendum. Decatur and Avondale Estates have already done this.

2) The legislator introduces the bill as local legislation.

What is local legislation? Local legislation requires the consent of nine of DeKalb’s 16 House delegation members and four of seven DeKalb County Senators to move forward. Annexation bills are local legislation. As a practical matter, most legislators defer the reps in the area affected by the legislation, but not always.

3) The bill passes both chambers. Because this bill is local legislation, it is not bound by the crossover day restriction that affects general legislation, meaning annexation bills can be introduced after a cityhood bill fails because it wasn’t approved by crossover day. The bill sets the date for a referendum.

4) The governor signs the bill.

5) Voters in the area to-be annexed must approve the annexation in a referendum. This is a sticking point for many people, since current city residents do not get the opportunity to vote. There is a bill under consideration that could change this, however …

https://decaturish.com/2015/02/proposed-legislation-would-give-cities-a-right-to-vote-on-annexation/

What are the current cityhood movements?

What are the current annexation proposals that Decaturish is following?

Who are the main groups that are opposed to annexation and cityhood?

Why is there a push to create new cities and expand older cities in DeKalb County?

There are two main reasons:

  • DeKalb County government seen as too big for the population it serves. Cities are seen as a way to bring government closer to the people they serve. A city council person represents fewer people than a county commissioner, and smaller government is believed to be more responsive to the needs of the people it serves.
  • DeKalb County is a mess. The county’s schools and its government has been mired in scandal for years. CEO Burrell Ellis was indicted, which ended in a mistrial. He is awaiting a retrial. Former commissioner Elaine Boyer resigned after being indicted for misusing her county-issued debit card. The School system nearly lost its accreditation and most of its members were removed by Gov. Nathan Deal. Even with an interim CEO, almost every other month there is a new story involving shenanigans in county government. It’s widely believed that more indictments are forthcoming against county officials.

Those sound like good reasons to form or join a city. Why are some groups opposed to it?

There are a few arguments against it:

  • The process is confusing. It takes 1,400 words’ worth of explanation just to make it “easy” to understand. The average voter is going to have a difficult time understanding and processing this information in order to make an informed decision. Some of the opposition groups claim that the process is deliberately confusing and that the people behind these initiatives aren’t being transparent in their actions.
  • Smaller government doesn’t necessarily mean better government. Opposition groups say that smaller governments are just as susceptible to corruption as larger governments.
  • Cityhood groups say they are redirecting tax dollars that would go to the county toward better uses. While some new cities cap property taxes in their charter, new cities still have the authority to impose new fees on residents.
  • Schools would suffer. This is a major sticking point with the proposal being put forward by Together In Atlanta. If it is successful, Briar Vista and Fernbank Elementary Schools would join Atlanta public schools, leaving the DeKalb County system. The TIA map also includes Druid Hills High. That means other schools that feed into Druid Hills High, like Druid Hills Middle and Avondale Estates Elementary School, would be zoned to other high schools. It’s important to note: None of the new cities under consideration would have their own school systems. They would all be under DeKalb County Schools. The only way to leave DeKalb County Schools would be by annexing into Decatur or Atlanta, both of which already have school systems.

If DeKalb County is the main driver of this discussion, why not simply reform DeKalb? That’s being pursued this year as well, and there are several bills that are under consideration that are intended to clean up county government. However, that is considered a parallel process to cityhood and annexation, not an alternative.

More: Here is our map of the current annexation and cityhood maps, including overlapping plans for annexation and cityhood. With cityhood bills on the way, it’s likely these maps will change in the next two weeks. 

About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of Decaturish.com. https://www.linkedin.com/in/danwhisenhunt

View all posts by Dan Whisenhunt

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