City of Stonecrest Passes Out of Committee; Greenhaven is Tabled
(APN) ATLANTA — Two cityhood bills involving DeKalb County are making their way through the Georgia House of Representatives: HB 613, provides for the incorporation of the City of Greenhaven; SB 208, provides for the incorporation of the City of Stonecrest, both in south DeKalb.
Stonecrest passed the House Governmental Affairs Committee, while Greenhaven was tabled in the House Governmental Affairs subcommittee.
Proposed City of Greenhaven
State Rep. Pam Stephenson (D-Decatur) is the sponsor of HB 613, which was tabled, for now, on Tuesday, February 16, 2016.
Members of the subcommittee agree that creating a City of Greenhaven would be a massive undertaking that needs more study and work before it is ready to be a city.
The current map of Greenhaven would create the second largest city in Georgia, after Atlanta, with nearly 300,000 citizens. It would incorporate almost forty percent of DeKalb County.
Greenhaven includes everything in south DeKalb County except the City of Lithonia and the proposed City of Stonecrest. Its boundary runs across DeKalb County, from Fulton County to Gwinnett County.
The disputed north boundary runs south of U.S. 78 and encompases the City of Stone Mountain, Stone Mountain Park, and Pine Lake; and abuts the south side of the City of Clarkston.
The boundary lines between Greenhaven and Stonecrest are not disputed, but the City of Lithonia will be surrounded by those two cities without future opportunity for growth or development.
Both proposed cities say that economic development and self-determination are the main reasons for seeking cityhood.
Greenhaven would initially provide three services: code enforcement, planning and zoning, and parks and recreation. They plan to add other services later.
“We are taking on three services but we are not city lite. City Lite limits the powers of government [by city charter, possibly unconstitutionally] and we are not doing that,” Dr. Kathryn Rice, Chair of Concerned Citizens for Cityhood of South DeKalb, Inc. (CCCSD) said to the subcommittee.
Dr. Rice said that because South DeKalb is underdeveloped, the only way to fiscal viability was by having a large city.
“Our revenue is 45 million dollars, our expenses 18 million which leaves us with a surplus of 27 million dollars,” Dr. Rice said.
The University of Georgia Carl Vinson Institute found Greenhaven to be fiscally feasible.
State Rep. Tom Taylor (R-Dunwoody) was concerned about how they would pay for almost 300 police officers, which they would need with only a 45 million dollar budget.
“In Dunwoody, we got two officers for four hundred and twenty thousand a month,” Rep. Taylor said.
Dr. Rice replied the budget did not include police now, the city would have two years to take on that service.
State Rep. Michele Henson (D-Stone Mountain) said she had major concerns with the map cutting into currently existing cities without an opportunity for growth or annexation.
“I have a packet of annexations from existing cities… the City of Greenhaven abuts all the existing cities, which does not leave any room for future growth. I am happy to work with them to construct boundaries that would allow existing cities to honor their annexation plans,” State Rep. Karla Drenner (D-Avondale) said.
Several City Council Members from Clarkston expressed similar concerns that Greenhaven boundaries would landlock several cities, including Clarkston; and leave no opportunity for growth and development.
Representatives said they support the concept of the City of Greenhaven, but that CCCSD members need to get with other cities on unresolved boundary lines.
Proposed City of Stonecrest
SB 208, the Stonecrest cityhood bill, has unanimously passed the House Governmental Affairs Committee this month, after it passed the State Senate last year.
Sponsors of the SB 208 are State Sens. Gail Davenport (D-Jonesboro), Gloria Butler (D-Stone Mountain, Emanuel Jones (D-Decatur), and Steve Henson (D-Tucker).
The proposed new City of Stonecrest includes the southeastern corner of DeKalb County, including Stonecrest Mall, running next to the City of Lithonia boundary line and stretching above I-20 at one point. It would include 50,000 residents.
Stonecrest also has a shared boundary line with the proposed City of Greenhaven
Stonecrest will offer three basic services parks and recreation, code enforcement, planning and zoning.
As with Greenhaven, Stonecrest will not purport to limit the powers of the city government by charter.
Other services not provided by the city, like police, will continue to be provided by DeKalb County.
A University of Georgia feasibility study estimated that Stonecrest would have an annual revenue of ten million dollars, and expenses of eight million dollars.
If passed in a full House vote, a referendum vote will be scheduled either May 24, 2016; or November 8, 2016.
New cities in North DeKalb have been sucking up money by grabbing commercial properties so they can keep profits close to home and not share with other unincorporated parts of DeKalb.
This has created a domino effect with one unincorporated area after another rushing to grab commercial property or land, while they can.
Some residents of South DeKalb, with the proposed cities of Stonecrest and Greenhaven, hope to protect their area from future negative financial consequences by becoming municipalities
South DeKalb fears that, with so much tax revenue moving away from DeKalb County, to new cities, that remaining unincorporated may become quite burdensome, if not unfeasible.
But is it a race to greater problems and more corruption, for it is naive to believe new cities will be immune from similar problems.
New cities add another level of government, more bureaucrats, and often higher taxes in one form or another, because, for example, cities can levy franchise fees on utility and cable bills.