ATLANTA – Legislation calling for the formation of a city of East Cobb cleared a committee in the Georgia House Thursday despite concerns raised by representatives of Cobb County.
The Republican-controlled House Governmental Affairs Committee approved House Bill 841 mostly along party lines and sent it on to the House Rules Committee to schedule a floor vote.
The bill calls for a referendum this November to let East Cobb residents vote on whether to form a city.
Supporters of cityhood told committee members their goal is to create a level of government as close to them as possible.
“This is not a criticism of Cobb [County] or its leadership,” said Craig Chapin, a member of the Committee for East Cobb Cityhood. “Where we’re coming from is an ability to have local control over issues that are closest to us.”
But Cobb County Commission Chairman Lisa Cupid and county department heads who accompanied her to the committee meeting said cityhood for East Cobb would have financial and service impacts residents should know about before they vote.
While the legislation calls for the new city to provide zoning and code enforcement services, other related services including business licensing and permitting would stay with the county, Cupid said. That could mean longer wait times, she said.
“Without having these included in the city of East Cobb, there’s dependency on the county to cooperate with the city,” she said.
Cobb Public Safety Director Randy Crider said fire protection in East Cobb could suffer because the proposed city’s fire department would only have two fire stations, compared to six in Marietta and five in Smyrna. Fewer than 1% of fire departments in the country have the level of certification of Cobb’s department, Crider said.
“I’d be curious to know how their residents are going to have a better fire department than the one they currently have,” he said.
Bill Volckmann, Cobb’s chief financial officer, said the rest of Cobb County would lose significant tax revenue from the county’s general fund, fire fund and 911 fund if East Cobb becomes a city.
Some committee members questioned the proposed structure of the East Cobb city government, which calls for six council members who would elect a mayor among themselves rather than let the residents vote.
“As a former mayor, I always like to see the executive branch elected separately from the legislative branch,” said Rep. J Collins, R-Villa Rica.
But Rep. Matt Dollar, R-Marietta, the bill’s chief sponsor, said some cities have seen mayors elected by voters independently of city councils become too powerful and try to force their agendas through without consensus.
“I really wanted this to be a true city council,” he said. “The mayor would be first among equals.”
Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, said he supported the bill because it would give East Cobb residents a chance to decide the issue for themselves.
“We’re not going to be the final say-so on this,” he said. “The people of this area will vote on whether or not they want to become a city.”
This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.