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SPIGOLON: Pros and cons of forming a new city
Buckhead city
Special Photo | Buckhead City, Georgia

Anyone wanting to consider forming a new city in Newton County or anywhere in Georgia needs to know the pros and cons of such a move.

Yes, it potentially can address such perceived problems as haphazard zoning or lack of everything from public safety to fire service.

But it also means another layer of taxes to fund a new government and the responsibility for providing and maintaining the services it agrees to provide — not to mention whatever financial effect it has on the county government which will no longer provide some of its services.

Georgia’s General Assembly must approve legislation to allow an area’s residents to vote to incorporate as a municipality.

The roughly 175,000 residents of the proposed city of East Cobb appears to be on their way to voting on incorporation — even after efforts to create a separate city of Buckhead from part of Atlanta surprisingly came to naught this legislative session.

The Buckhead effort seemed to have everything going for it following an uptick in crime in recent years — especially around Lenox Mall and Phipps Plaza.

But it apparently was a victim of a combination of events: election-year politics and inroads Atlanta’s new mayor made with legislative leaders to keep the wealthy area within the city.

A major culprit reportedly has been Buckhead cityhood leader Bill White’s actions to create bad feelings toward the plan — from racist Tweets to “disgusting” rumors he spread about the former head of MARTA in the wake of his death by suicide, according to the lieutenant governor.

What formerly was considered a slam dunk will wait at least a year because of a leader who was unwilling to keep his opinions to himself on social media — and likely was reinforced by others in the echo chamber that social media can be. 

Leaders often forget that people outside their little bubble of support often can read what they’re writing on social media — unless you create your own, private Facebook pages in which only your supporters are allowed. 

In the case of the city of East Cobb, the Republican-led Georgia Senate approved the bill largely along party lines 31-18 despite objections from some Democratic legislators and county officials who claim the process was rushed. 

County officials say they don’t know all the financial effects of adding another incorporated city to the roster, according to East Cobb Patch.

So far, it seems residents of new Metro Atlanta cities formed since 2005 have gone in with their eyes wide open to what they will be getting and the responsibilities and costs they have in keeping their cities operating. 

State law requires that cities provide at least three services, either directly or by contract, from a list that includes law enforcement, fire protection, road construction and maintenance, garbage collection and management, water distribution, wastewater treatment, stormwater collection and disposal, electric or natural gas service, code enforcement, planning and zoning, and recreational facilities.

Most new cities have included zoning and building inspection departments and recreational facilities and management in the services they offer. A perceived lack of code enforcement and poor city planning were what drove these suburban towns to create their cities in the first place.

Because of the costs involved, few if any cities have opted to establish their own fire departments. Not every city has opted to include police departments in the services they offer. The costs of setting up new water and sewer systems and electric departments are typically out of the question.

So, the same cities pay the county they just left for a number of services while taking on relatively less costly ones.

The residents of an unincorporated area of Fulton County north of I-285 called Sandy Springs had been dissatisfied for years with what they felt were services not being proportional to the amount of taxes they were paying the Fulton County government. 

Sandy Springs’ incorporation in 2005 helped open the floodgates for new cities. Residents of parts of unincorporated Fulton County subsequently voted to incorporate the cities of Milton, South Fulton, Johns Creek, and Chattahoochee Hills in later years.

DeKalb County saw Dunwoody, Brookhaven, Tucker and Stonecrest residents vote to incorporate. The General Assembly’s Republican majority had overruled the county’s Democrat-dominated legislative delegation to allow the vote on Dunwoody in 2008. 

DeKalb County’s unincorporated tax digest then decreased from 86% of the countywide digest in 2008 to 41% by 2020, according to information from the county government. 

Will the desire for cityhood eventually move Newton Countians to action?

The desire for more recreational facilities and dissatisfaction with what the zoning process has produced has not gone unnoticed by Newton leaders in the western part of the county.

Time will tell if unincorporated Newton residents act in response to desires for more services — and if they are willing to pay what is required to get them.

Tom Spigolon is news editor of The Covington News. He may be reached at