The Georgia Capitol building in Atlanta (Photo by Beau Evans)

ATLANTA – Legislation that would make changes to the municipal annexation process in Georgia, including giving local school systems more input, was prefiled in the General Assembly this week.

Three bills introduced by state Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver would let school districts participate in annexation disputes between cities and counties as well as bond validation hearings.

The measures stem from an annexation dispute between DeKalb County and the city of Brookhaven. A ruling a state arbitration panel issued in September will permit zoning changes allowing the redevelopment of a 27-acre mixed-use project to include a hotel, luxury apartments and office and retail space.

“In my central DeKalb County district and across the state, there is conflict and discussion about the financial impact of annexation efforts on school systems and on local governments,” said Oliver, D-Decatur.

“I want us to have a focused discussion and strengthen the statutes to allow for objections to annexations, review of bond validations with related tax abatement issues and increase transparency for all participants.”

Tom Gehl, director of governmental relations for the Georgia Municipal Association, which represents city governments throughout the state, said he doesn’t object to school systems participating in bond validation hearings.

But he said concerns over the financial impact tax abatements to developers might have on a school district’s tax revenues wouldn’t be addressed by letting school officials take part in annexation disputes.

“Tax abatements and financial incentives are an important tool in economic development,” Gehl said. “Having some guardrails on what types of tax abatements can be offered is a conversation worth having. … [But] a lot of tax abatements happen outside of annexations. The problem [Oliver] is trying to address isn’t just an annexation issue.”

Gehl said the bills also might not resonate with lawmakers across Georgia because most annexation disputes occur between cities and counties in the Atlanta region.

“If you go to Camilla, Tifton or some other place, [annexations] are generally somebody wanting water or sewer … and the counties don’t object,” he said. “This really is more of an issue in DeKalb and some of the metro counties.”