To the editor:
As some voters across Cobb County make a choice about cityhood referendums this May, this proverb seems quite applicable: “Everybody learns from their own mistakes. The wise learn from the mistakes of others.”
Like three of the four proposed cityhood referendums on the ballot this year in Cobb County, the residents of Peachtree Corners in Gwinnett County faced a very similar ballot question in 2011 with almost identical prophetic rhetoric of doom and gloom from cityhood proponents. Pitched as city-lite with three city services and based on the premise of local control, Peachtree Corners was incorporated in 2012 on the promise of a University of Georgia Carl Vision Institute (CVI) feasibility study with expenditures estimated at $760,000.
It did not take long for promises made to Peachtree Corners residents to hit cold, hard reality. In June of 2012, the Patch and Atlanta-Journal Constitution reported that the first-year budget of Peachtree Corners came to approximately $2.7 million, with $1.7 million coming from projected property taxes. This is more than three times the CVI’s original estimate. In 2021, Peachtree Corners, whose revenue is generated in part from a 36 percent commercial property tax base, had a total adopted fiscal year budget of $22.3 million.
In documented budgets of newly incorporated cities over the past twenty years, we found similar outcomes. In fact, some 80 percent of cities exceeded (greatly) the forecasted cost of cityhood in their first year alone.
That’s a long way from “feasibility” to reality and what seems feasible may, in fact, not be constitutional. In January of 2018, the AJC reported that a 2017 CVI report indicated revisions to the City of Peachtree Corners Charter were necessary to make it fully compliant with state law.
The report states the following: “[C]harter provisions, whether enacted locally or by local Act of the Georgia General Assembly, that artificially limit a municipal corporation’s ability to provide a service it is otherwise legally authorized to provide, or requiring that provision of a new service be contingent upon a referendum are unconstitutional.”
Peachtree Corners it seems, like the proposed city of Lost Mountain, the City of East Cobb and the City of Vinings, created a city charter that, according to the 2017 CVI study, “is legally deficient and that due to the nature of municipal law in Georgia, it needs to be rewritten by the General Assembly.” The leadership of Peachtree Corners, compelled by the findings of this report, found it necessary to rewrite their charter at taxpayers’ expense.
Why does this matter today? Because three of the four proposed city charters drafted by State legislators (who are in favor of cityhood) have the same or similar language as the original Peachtree Corners charter. Further, there have been numerous documented accounts throughout the years where legal scholars, judges and Attorneys General have cited the unconstitutionality of the ‘city-lite’ model. This includes a 2015 report issued by the Georgia State Senate on annexation, deannexation, and incorporation. In its list of recommendations, the bi-partisan State Senate committee members recommended prohibiting the “City Lite” concept from being included in future municipal incorporation proposals because, according to the 2015 Senate’s Legislative Council, the “concept appears to be unconstitutional….”
It took us a Google search to find this.
And yet State legislators continue to draft and enact legislation where the law, as set by the Constitution of Georgia, is not being followed. By touting a city-lite model, they are selling something that is not available in the hopes that no one challenges them.
We say “Not so fast.” We challenge the constitutionality of HB826 because we believe when a community is voting on something that impacts their lives, their finances and likely their most important investment—their home—they should go to the ballot box with confidence that what they are voting for stands up to the Constitution.
We also believe that the vague promise of “feasibility” deserves a deeper scrutiny. The constitutionality question of the proposed City of Lost Mountain and others is important, but it is not the only issue. At its core, the faulty Charter leaves more questions for the community than answers. We urge everyone to read it and the 2015 Senate report so that we can learn from the mistakes of the past.
It is unfortunate that proponents of cityhood do not value “local control” enough to host meetings at HOAs and town halls prior to writing and pushing through this legislation. The people in our community are intelligent. They would have been willing to do the legwork to get all the facts that apparently the Legislators failed to do.
West Cobb Advocate