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Georgia Legislature considering new rules for creating cities

Annexation, new cities Metro ATL Trending

Georgia Legislature considering new rules for creating cities

Georgia State Capitol. Photo by Dean Hesse.
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Atlanta, GA — A bill going through the state Legislature this year aims to put in place a set of rules on how new cities can be formed and would require a referendum.

While support for new cities in the past has been divided along party lines, with Republicans generally favoring new cities, this new bill is a bipartisan effort.

There is currently no state law around cityhood. When cityhood matters come up during the legislative session, it’s brought before the governmental affairs committee in the state House or Senate, and the committee sets the rules around cityhood. House Bill 813 would codify the cityhood process in state law.

“Basically what it does, it puts the process to cityhood in code rather than in committee rule, like it is today,” State Rep. John LaHood (R -Valdosta) said during a committee meeting on Jan. 24.

State Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D – Decatur) told Decaturish that the bill is a good combination of previous discussions about the financial impact new cities have, what would be required if there is a fiscal impact and proposals that have been previously introduced.

She added that the rules of the committee are adopted every two years.

“The bill right now is getting extra attention. There’s going to be a new draft presented and a new discussion at the committee, and it’s an important discussion,” Oliver said. “The bill has got a lot of substance to it, a lot of specific provisions, and I’m happy to participate in these discussions and I hope it’s passed.”

State law nor the committee rules require a referendum, although the committee typically does call for a referendum vote for new cities. House Bill 813 currently would require that a referendum pass by a super-majority of 55% of the voters who would be in the new city.

“We’re actually putting it in code,” said Rep. Victor Anderson (R – Cornelia), the bill sponsor, during the committee meeting. “In essence, to create an incorporated municipality that has taxing authority, it should be a deliberate measure. It should be something that’s [as] uncontroversial as possible and meet the will of the people.”

The House Governmental Affairs Committee supported the bill on Jan. 24, which brought it to the House floor on Jan. 29. The bill, however, was sent back to the committee.

Here are a few of the other requirements in the bill:

– To bring a cityhood bill to the General Assembly, the bill would have to be introduced by the state representative or senator whose district is fully or partially within the area of a proposed municipality. A cityhood bill would also be introduced in one session and voted on in another session.

“It has to be a legislator who is actually involved in that area,” Anderson said.

– New cities could not create any unincorporated islands or limited-service municipalities.

– The bill would also require a cityhood initiative committee to be established. Before a new city could be proposed to the Legislature, the committee would have to submit a petition to probate court. The probate court would determine the validity of the petition.

“The primary reason we’re doing these things is we don’t want special interest groups, special interest organizations that do not necessarily represent the populous of the people that are intending to create the city to be able to come in and do things to the contrary to public intent and public will,” Anderson said.

– The cityhood initiative committee would also have to pay for and complete a fiscal impact and service delivery study between the two legislative sessions.

HB 813 includes a provision that an estimate of the financial impact of any pension obligations is included in the fiscal impact study.

Oliver has previously introduced a bill related to pensions. She gave Decaturish an example of the city of Dunwoody.

When the city of Dunwoody was incorporated, residents eventually stopped contributing to the pension funds for county employees as the city gained its own employees. At the time, there was a financial analysis to determine what Dunwoody residents owed to DeKalb County.

“DeKalb County made a commitment to fund pensions and there were a certain number of employees left in DeKalb County that were still entitled to county pensions that Dunwoody stepped away from,” Oliver told Decaturish.

HB 813 includes a provision that an estimate of the financial impact of any pension obligations is included in the fiscal impact study.

Anderson introduced the bill at the end of the legislative session in 2023, and it was also discussed during a Governmental Affairs Committee meeting in December.

“City rules, as anyone who’s ever studied the rules of order, committee rules and presided over a meeting, can be changed with a simple majority vote,” Anderson said during the Dec. 5 committee meeting. “This is an important process. It’s one of the most fundamental local government decisions that can be made and have a direct impact on people’s lives. We don’t really need it to be that simple. It needs to be intentional, and it needs to be fair for all involved.”

State Rep. J Collins (R – Villa Rica) encouraged the Legislature to consider prohibiting cityhood.

“I’ve been in the legislature now, seven years. I wish I had the time of my life back that I spent doing cityhood initiatives. I felt like that was a huge waste of time,” Collins said. “I don’t think people understand the duplication of services at different levels of government.”

“Think this legislation moves us maybe in that direction to where we do have more credibility and accountability and provides a clear path to cityhood,” Collins added.

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