Getting more, for less.
That’s the general pitch of those advocating for a city of east Cobb, and some county commissioners aren’t buying it.
One advocate of cityhood called east Cobb the county’s “golden goose.”
“There’s so much money sloshing around that there’s a tax cut to be had,” said Bill Green, a retired financial analyst who studied the proposal on behalf of the organization pushing it forward.
The boundaries as originally proposed were the northern portion of Cobb County District 2, starting above the Wildwood office park, Cumberland CID, and excluding any portion of incorporated Marietta. But the Committee for Cityhood in East Cobb shared a new map Monday that included the Pope and Lassiter high schools’ attendance zones. According to advocate David Birdwell, that could include as many as 115,000 people, making the proposed east Cobb city the seventh-largest city in the state.
While the proposed city would be in his district, east Cobb Commissioner Bob Ott would not comment for this story except to say, “It’s my belief that people should make their decision on what they learn going to town halls and other meetings, not what commissioners think.”
Commissioner Lisa Cupid said, “I think it’s best at this point to reserve judgement until I learn more.”
Yet Chairman Mike Boyce and Commissioners JoAnn Birrell of north Cobb and Keli Gambrill of west Cobb don’t believe it’s possible for a new city to provide better services with lower taxes.
“I don’t know how they can say that,” Birrell said. “I don’t think that’s accurate.”
Boyce and Gambrill both point to the fact that residents of the county’s other six cities pay a city millage rate on top of their county millage.
“What is it that these proponents of east Cobb know that these six mayors and these six governments that have experience in running a government don’t know?” Boyce asked.
Gambrill said the push for cityhood there goes against the spirit of the bill that made the whole thing possible.
“Back when House Bill 489 came about for the creation of cities, the cities were supposed to be able to provide services that the unincorporated portions of the county could not,” Gambrill said. “The way Cobb is now, the unincorporated (portions) provide more services in some respects than the cities do.”
As an example, Gambrill cited the fact that the county has a bomb squad it can deploy to any of the county’s cities in the event there is a suspicious package that needs investigating — something none of the cities in Cobb have.
Advocates also say cityhood would put zoning decisions in the hands of a city council that will be more representative of the area’s population and more likely to stave off developer’s attempts to build up.
But Gambrill said that, too, is unlikely.
“If you look at it, our cities are usually more intensely developed than the unincorporated areas,” she said. “It’s also a way for the cities to raise revenue when they’re confined with a small area.”
She acknowledged that Cobb returns to the cities some of the money their residents pay in property taxes for duplication of services, such as police. But if cities got all of that money back, they wouldn’t need an additional millage to function, Gambrill said.
“While I heard that the city of east Cobb is essentially considering rewriting the intergovernmental agreement that exchanged the funds for the duplication of services, I just don’t see how its going to be where they don’t have to have their own millage of some sort,” she added.
In order for cityhood to move forward, both chambers of the General Assembly will have to approve a bill establishing the referendum. State Rep. Matt Dollar, R-east Cobb, sponsored such a bill in April.
At the earliest, voters could decide the matter in the general primary on May 19, 2020, with the approval of cityhood triggering a vote to fill municipal offices in that year’s November general election.
Despite their disagreement, Gambrill said, opponents and advocates of cityhood do have one thing in common: “We all live here for the same reason, which is we enjoy Cobb County.”