At a town hall meeting in Austell Monday called by House District 39 Representative Erica Thomas, leaders of the South Cobb Alliance built their case for moving ahead with South Cobb cityhood. The map of the proposed city includes unincorporated areas of the 30126 and 30168 zip codes, along with much smaller parts of two adjacent zip codes.
After doing a brief summary of legislation in the upcoming session, Thomas thanked the South Cobb Alliance for the effort they put into exploring cityhood, including a survey they conducted of a thousand local residents.
About 85 percent of the proposed city would be in her legislative district, she said, with small portions in the districts represented by Erick Allen and David Wilkerson.
Tre’Hutchins, a member of the South Cobb Alliance, described the boundaries in more detail, referring to a map that had been distributed to attendees. The northern boundary of the city would be Hurt Road, just north of the East West Connector, and the southern boundary is the south tip of the county. The area proposed covers Mableton and unincorporated areas with Austell addresses.
Thomas asked Hutchins to talk about the advantage of cityhood.
“180,000 people live in District 4, so one person is governing for 180,000 people,” he said. “The city limits that we’re talking about is rough 70,000 – 75,000 people. So we’re talking about seven council people who would be responsible for 10,000 people each. So when we’re talking about local, we’re really drilling down where now this person has kids in the same schools, they’re shopping at the same Publix, they’re at the same park … everywhere within our community you’ll be able to see your local representation, the representative that will be able to make decisions for your area.”
He said, “So while Commissioner Cupid does an excellent job of running and trying to handle the business of District 4, we’re still talking about 180,000 people.”
Asked why there was a small island of proposed city seemingly surrounded by Smyrna on the northeast corner of the map, District 4 Planning Commissioner Galt Porter, who is on the South Cobb Alliance steering committee, said that the state reapportionment office had added it to the map to keep the boundaries consistent with the census tracts.
One resident raised concerns about taking on the Six Flags corridor because of the crime rate in that area. “If this becomes a city, then that goes from a county problem, to now, this city’s problem,” she said.
Porter answered that the area around Six Flags represents a huge tax base, with the industrial area and Six Flags itself.
“Originally people said ‘Just do Mableton, don’t do anything else’,” he said. “The problem is, Mableton is primarily residential, with very little commercial base, and a lot of the commercial base that is there isn’t very strong.”
He said that only including Mableton would create a city with 90 percent or higher residential and 10 percent commercial and industrial.
“That’s not a good mix,” he said. “Residential properties take more services than they usually pay for, (and) commercial/industrial (areas) pay more than what they use.”
He said the balance the proposed map represents is about two thirds residential and one third commercial.
A resident asked if cityhood would result in double taxation.
Hutchins said the level of taxes would depend on what services the city decided to take on from the county.
“We have to take three services,” he said. “We can take as many as we want, but coming on with a new charter, the state mandates out of the sixteen services that the counties offer, we have to maintain three of them. All of our municipalities here in Cobb County currently have police as one of their services that they actually maintain. Police would not be a service that we are requesting to maintain coming out of the gate. That would be something that city council would decide as we become an established city.”
He said the county would still collect the taxes, but would give a portion of the money back to the city based on the revenue collected from within the city and on what services the city had decided to take over from the county.
A resident mentioned the financial difficulties of the recently incorporated City of South Fulton. Thomas said that a source of the problem in South Fulton was a lack of cooperation between the city council and the state delegation who had written the charter for the city. She attributed this to the lack of experience of South Fulton elected officials, and a lack of willingness to listen to the state legislative delegation.
She also said that the process for setting up a city in South Cobb was just beginning, and that it would be at least a two-year effort if residents took the project on.
Hutchins said that Stonecrest, which had incorporated, had not had a tax increase, and that most of the cities that had recently incorporated had no millage rate increases. He said the level of taxes depends on what services the city wants to bring on board.
Keylan Mitchell, another member of the South Cobb Alliance steering committee, said that in talking to his neighbors the main concerns raised that a city could address were zoning, code enforcement, and economic development.
Thomas asked Doug Stoner, who had been a Smyrna city councilman, in addition to serving in both the state House and Senate, what effect forming a city would have.
Stoner said, “The advantage of having a municipal government is your ability to have a government that is focused very tightly on a geographical area. Understand that if you’re in a county commission district that represents nearly 180,000 people, and your commissioner is competing with other commissioners, they’re all asking for different services and things around the county.”
Porter explained in more detail why the initial proposal didn’t include a local police department. He said that police and fire were among the most resource-intensive activities of government, often representing half of a city’s total budget.
He said that when the government opens, the city has to be ready to begin operations, and couldn’t afford to be working out the details of police and fire departments while it was getting its procedures in order.
“If someone comes, and they can’t get a business license for 24 hours it isn’t the world’s biggest deal. But if you need police or fire out there on day one, that’s a big deal,” he said.
Hutchins said residents surveyed by the South Cobb Alliance didn’t list police as one of the top things they’d like changed.
“We have the top six services on your survey. The top service is code enforcement. The second service, right behind that, is zoning and planning. The third most important service to the thousand people that we have already surveyed is solid waste management. Parks and Recs come in at number four. Police doesn’t actually come in until number six.”
Mitchell appealed to the audience for donations for the feasibility study. Hutchins said that the organization had met about 10 percent of the goal needed to commission the study, and that stakeholders had offered to match donations once a substantial portion of the cost of the study had been raised.
District 4 Commissioner Lisa Cupid, who arrived at the meeting after attending the swearing-in ceremony for new school board members, was asked by Thomas to say a few words.
Cupid said, “There is a lot of sentiment around this, and I just think the best thing is to be as educated as possible. And the best thing to create the best community to be in is citizen participation. I hear a lot about we need a city to be responsive, no, we need you to help any local government to be responsive.”
She said she had been disheartened by the sentiment that forming a city would change everything.
“Things change when you change them,” she said, “when you start participating, you start demanding certain local services. Then whatever voice that speaks for you, it’s not just their voice speaking, it’s reflective of your voice.”
Informational meetings on South Cobb cityhood will be held tonight (July 9), 7 p.m. – 8:30 p.m., Saturday January 19, 2 p.m – 4 p.m., and Wednesday January 30, 7 p.m. – 8:30 p.m., all at the South Cobb Regional Library, 805 Clay Rd. Mableton.