East Cobb residents will have a historic opportunity to vote in a referendum on May 24, 2022, to decide whether East Cobb should become a city. A new city in Cobb County, Georgia, has not been formed in over 100 years. The ballot question has come with a lot of robust discussion in the communities seeking cityhood. In February, Governor Kemp signed House Bill 841 along with similar legislation for the areas Lost Mountain and Vinings. Cobb County had been silent on the issue of cityhood until Cobb BOC Chairwoman Lisa Cupid spoke out against the bill for East Cobb, HB-8411, at the Governmental Affairs Committee. She concluded her remarks stating, “Sir, again, I’m in opposition to a bill being passed that has not been made clear, where information is inaccurate or incomplete for our voters to make a wise decision.”2

Since that statement, Cobb County kicked off an “Awareness Campaign”3 that has been neither neutral nor educational. The legislative process to create a new city in Georgia requires that the cityhood committee conduct a feasibility study. Studies must be completed by an approved Georgia university. The Georgia Governmental Affairs Committee does not require but will accept an Impact Study from the county, as well. While the cityhood committees had their respective impartial feasibility studies conducted by Georgia State and UGA in 2021, the county failed to initiate an Impact Study with Georgia Tech during that same one-year timeframe. Instead, Cobb County whipped up its own financial assessment4 at the last minute. Using taxpayer resources, Cobb County is now actively campaigning against the ballot measures by holding townhalls5 that parade out county staff and officials who have more questions than answers in a blatant attempt to dissuade voters. Concerning fire protection services for the City of East Cobb, at a recent town hall meeting Cobb County Fire Chief Bill Johnson claims, “They absolutely will see an increase in their response time.”6 And, as seen on a Facebook livestream recording7, Cobb Commissioner Jerica Richardson and Director of Communications Ross Cavitt addressed an anti-city launch campaign event on March 5, 2022. These statements and activities by county officials clearly demonstrate the absence of neutrality regarding the ballot measures.

At the same time, anti-city groups are ramping up efforts to campaign against the proposed cities. The East Cobb Alliance formed in 2019 to counter the previous cityhood effort. Their opposition hinges on a hollow smear campaign8of lies and innuendo against city proponents. Other objections the group raises are concerns about a “rushed” timeline and fear of increased taxes, despite tax caps in the legislation.

Time is of the essence for cityhood proponents to pass these ballot measures. The bills followed the appropriate 2-year legislative process, went through multiple committee hearings, and were signed by the Governor in time for the May ballot. With other high-profile races on the ticket, like the Governor’s and US Senator’s seats, voter turnout is sure to be high for the primary. The cityhood referendum will be on the same ticket to take advantage of high voter turnout for the referendum. Upon passage of the referendum, a November ticket will include the election for city mayor and council members with expected high bi-partisan voter participation. This timeline also avoids having a city council voted on in a Special Election known for low voter turnout. An elected council would then be sworn in by January 1, 2023, in time to have a voice in the renegotiation of the Cobb County Millage Rate and City Services Agreement (Cobb Six Cities MOU)9 set to expire next year. In this agreement, the county provides funds to offset the cost of city service provision required by the Service Delivery Strategy (OCGA 36-70-2)10.

Georgia State’s Andrew Young School for State & Local Finance concluded in the feasibility study, “the proposed city of East Cobb could expect annual revenues of approximately $27.72 million and annual expenditures of approximately $24.65 million yielding a surplus of approximately $3.07 million. We find that the proposed city of East Cobb would be financially feasible, based on the above estimates and assumptions that are detailed in this report.” 11 Anticipated revenue from the Cobb Six Cities MOU was excluded from the revenue calculation due to several factors, including the impending expiration of the agreement. While startup expenditures to establish the city are included in the report, opponents note that Facility Leasing was omitted. The Government Center on Lower Roswell Rd. in East Cobb is a likely candidate to house city operations. Should the city not reach reasonable terms with the county to transfer the property, the elected council can find alternative commercial office space at a conservative estimate of $516,000/year. With $1.8M of annual contingency funds and a $3.07M of annual surplus, in addition to the proceeds the city will be due from the MOU, the risk to financial feasibility is nil.

The main drive behind East Cobb’s cityhood effort is to establish local responsive government closer to the people. Population growth in unincorporated Cobb has outpaced incorporated areas for the past 10 years. The best way to preserve the suburban character of the community is with a local council of people who live in East Cobb. Moreover, an elected council can protect against bad zoning decisions, like Z-11 involving Dobbins Air Reserve Base. Columnist Ron Sifen12 described the May decision by Cobb’s BOC on Z-11, “I have never heard of any zoning anywhere that ever caused so much bipartisan alarm from other branches of government.”

Upon incorporation, a City of East Cobb will take responsibility for the Public Safety services of Police, Fire, and e-911. Cobb County claims it only needs two fire stations in East Cobb because they use an economies of scale approach to delivering public safety services. However, Eva Galambos, economist and first Mayor of Sandy Springs, pointed out in a paper published in 1999, “as cities grow larger, the layers of bureaucracy rapidly grow, and the economies of scale for capital expenditures are soon overwhelmed by the diseconomies of a growing bureaucracy. This effect accounts for the Carl Vinson Institute of Government finding that governmental consolidations for jurisdictions over 250,000 in population are unlikely to result in cost savings.”13 This holds true today for East Cobb, where residents pay $12.7M to the fire fund. It equates to $6.35M per station compared to the City of Marietta, where residents pay $2.32M14 per station for an ISO-1 rated level of service. The City of East Cobb will have two years to implement a comprehensive transition plan of Public Safety services. During that time, East Cobb can enter into Automatic and Mutual Aid Agreements with neighboring municipalities, like all the other cities in Cobb County. “The model (Automatic Aid Agreements) is already being used in other large metro areas.” Milton Fire Chief Gabe Benmoussa said, “Phoenix is well known for its automatic aid agreement with nearly 30 cities.”15 While these more cost-efficient models may be novel to the Cobb County Fire Department, they are tested and true in other municipalities including the neighboring cities of Roswell and Sandy Springs.

Cityhood proponents have quickly learned, “the flak only gets heavy when you’re over the target.” The flak keeps coming from Cobb County and anti-city campaigns, but ultimately, the voters will decide whether they should form a city. All signals indicate the majority will vote YES.

 

By Cindy Cooperman, East Cobb Cityhood Committee, April 18, 2022

The Marietta Daily Journal, Opinion

 


References:

1 HB-841 – a bill to incorporate the City of East Cobb.

https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/60811

 2 AROUND TOWN: Cupid on east Cobb; breaking down the new House and Senate districts, Jan 14, 2022

https://www.mdjonline.com/opinion/around-town-cupid-on-east-cobb-breaking-down-the-new-house-and-senate-districts/article_9173e68a-7558-11ec-8727-1fa03fd03747.html

3 Cobb Co. government to create cityhood ‘awareness campaign,’ retains Sam Olens, as Vinings, Lost Mountain move forward, Feb 2, 2022

https://www.mdjonline.com/news/frontpage/cobb-co-government-to-create-cityhood-awareness-campaign-retains-sam-olens-as-vinings-lost-mountain/article_843b0aec-8468-11ec-9879-6b8d03e278ff.html

4 Cityhood Financial Summary, prepared by Cobb County

https://s3.us-west-2.amazonaws.com/cobbcounty.org.if-us-west-2/prod/2022-02/Copy%20of%20Cityhood%20East%20Cobb_1.pdf

5 Cobb County Cityhood “Townhalls”, March 9, 2022, and March 24, 2022

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W3H_EyThLoo

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=txhQiMyfYic

6 Cobb County Cityhood Referendum Town Hall, Cobb County Fire Chief Bill Johnson - 03/09/22 (23m 50 sec)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W3H_EyThLoo

7 East Cobb Alliance was live. March 5 at 9:46 AM (49m 06 sec)

https://fb.watch/bXrhq-exs8/

8 East Cobb Alliance – Cityhood Swindle

https://eastcobballiance.com/2022-cityhood-analysis/cityhood-swindle/

9 Cobb County Millage Rate and City Services Agreement (Cobb Six Cities MOU), p. 21

https://www.eastcobbga.com/2021_east_cobb_feasibility_study

10 2020 Georgia Code, Title 36 - Local Government, Chapter 70 - Coordinated and Comprehensive Planning and Service Delivery by Counties and Municipalities, Article 2 - Service Delivery

https://law.justia.com/codes/georgia/2020/title-36/chapter-70/article-2/

11 Feasibility Study for the Proposed City of East Cobb. 11/12/2021, p. 3

https://www.eastcobbga.com/2021_east_cobb_feasibility_study

12 Some alarming recent zoning decisions, by Ron Sifen, March 25, 2022

https://mariettadailyjournal-ga.newsmemory.com/?publink=4640c8cbc_13483c9&fbclid=IwAR2N-ewvpFB0ndL6ROi0ckLUjs-IuZLoaciDm02HkhtqkmIxqaF5ghWz6wA#.Yj29ekBbZyo.facebook

13 Sandy Springs: A Case Study on Centralization of Local Government

https://www.georgiapolicy.org/news/sandy-springs-a-case-study-on-centralization-of-local-government/

14 City of Marietta, Georgia, FY2022 Budget Summary, p.7

https://www.mariettaga.gov/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/2186

15 Milton adopts aid agreement with North Fulton cities, by Chamian Cruz, Feb 8, 2022

https://www.appenmedia.com/milton/milton-adopts-aid-agreement-with-north-fulton-cities/article_0445ad60-8904-11ec-8aa1-835fc48071db.html