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Justification needed before talk of new city

POSTED: January 19, 2014 8:03 a.m.
 

Since Sandy Springs opened the door in 2005, it seems there hasn’t been a year that didn’t include talk of forming one or more new cities somewhere in the metro Atlanta area. In last year’s session alone there were four different such proposals just for DeKalb County.

In some cases there is clear justification for residents coming together to organize a municipality, but in others doing so just adds undue layers of government bureaucracy – think tax collecting agencies and control of residents – while diminishing the ability of counties to maintain levels of services outside of municipalities.

As a starting point, let’s all agree on this: Georgia already has too many governmental entities. The state’s 159 counties are second only to Texas in number, and it has well over 500 incorporated cities. The populace, especially in rural Georgia, could easily and more efficiently be served with fewer of each, though we don’t expect consideration of combining governments to be on anybody’s legislative dance card any time soon.

There are times when people in a certain geographic area can make a compelling case for cityhood, for example when an area is paying a disproportionate share of county taxes but not receiving a proportionate share of county services. But those instances are few and far between.

More often, the call for mapping of new city boundaries is for more mundane reasons, though they may be gussied up to appear more compelling than is actually the case.

For those who advocate the creation of new cities, there are no shortages of reasons for doing so. Increased control of something or someone is always a factor.

 In some instances organizers want to incorporate so that they can control commercially zoned areas, reaping the revenues from sales and property taxes for a more concentrated population rather than having them go to a county government. Sometimes the desire is to control zonings, so that those blessed with a perceived level of affluence don’t have to live too closely to those who may not be as fortunate. Sometimes racial issues are at play. Sometimes there is a desire for more law enforcement.

But in reality, forming a city for one single reason seldom makes sense. Nor is it likely that a city formed to address one specific concern will find itself limited to that scope for long. Once empowered, governments have a tendency to expand, so that before long a city formed simply to better control the boundaries of its neighborhood is forming a police department, adding a park and rec staff, paving streets and running water lines.

All of which is to say that those considering the possibility of advocating for the formation of a new city in south Forsyth need to be very cautious in their approach to any such effort.

Unless a compelling case can be made that there is a legitimate need – and frankly given the high quality of life throughout the county that is going to be difficult to do – then the factious division of the county with the addition of another formal government will do more harm than good.

The process for seeking cityhood is long and complex, with good reason. We will have to be convinced that such an effort makes sense anywhere in our county at this time.

 

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