Legislature doesn’t pass Tucker annexation legislation, charter changes

Tucker City Hall. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Tucker, GA — Two city of Tucker legislative priorities went nowhere in the recent legislative session that concluded on March 31.

Mayor Frank Auman and City Council members can be reelected indefinitely if a resolution passed at the Feb. 22 council meeting had been approved by the legislature. Eliminating term limits was a recommendation made by Tucker’s Charter Commission, a board of nine appointed residents who reviewed the city’s charter in 2018. Council members also unanimously passed a resolution to annex a segment of unincorporated DeKalb County near Northlake Mall which would’ve required legislative approval.

City spokesperson Matt Holmes confirmed that the Legislature did not pass these measures, though he was unsure of the reason why.

“I don’t know what happened,” Holmes said.

On March 31, the DeKalb County Municipal Association released a statement about annexation that was prompted, in part, but the Legislature’s failure to pass legislation for Tucker.

Bill Floyd with the DeKalb Municipal Association said the statement was, “Not specifically but Tucker has an annexation bill they could not get any consideration for.”

The statement makes recommendations regarding annexations going forward.

“It is important to acknowledge that although there have been several new cities created in DeKalb in recent years, we have reached a point where, in several instances, remaining unincorporated areas proposed to be incorporated into new cities would be better served by nearby existing cities,” the statement from DMA says. “Additionally, incorporating new cities in a way that creates large or small pockets of unincorporated territory separated by one or more cities will only make the task of serving those areas more difficult for the county and service delivery to those areas will suffer as a result.”

Here’s the full statement from the DMA:

Policy Statement Regarding the Municipalization of DeKalb County

DeKalb Municipal Association

February, 2021

During the course of 2019, a study was undertaken to examine the fiscal impact of several incorporation scenarios on service delivery provided by DeKalb County. The study was undertaken largely because DeKalb County officials implored the General Assembly to study these impacts before creating new cities. The study, supported by both the county and the cities in DeKalb, was steered by a committee of members of the General Assembly delegation from DeKalb County, city representatives and county representatives; and was intentionally funded from the county general fund into which all county taxpayers contribute regardless of their incorporated or unincorporated designation. The following statement represents the views of the existing DeKalb County cities on incorporation as expressed through their association after careful consideration and discussion.

First and foremost, it must be recognized that local governments, and therefore their political boundaries, are created for the benefit of the residents, business owners, and visitors that rely on them for services. Too much of the discussion about annexation and incorporation to date has focused on fiscal impact to the county government and too little about making sure citizens are well served. All of the cities inside the boundaries of DeKalb County strongly desire to see the county prosper and succeed. A healthy and vibrant DeKalb County makes for healthy and vibrant DeKalb cities just as flourishing cities serve to strengthen the County. It is clear that the provision of many municipal services currently provided by the county could be more efficiently and effectively provided by city governments. This is particularly true of local community and economic development. The importance of police services with speedy response times and the capacity to patrol and engage with the community is a tremendous asset enjoyed by most city residents. We need only look to neighboring Fulton County to see a successful model that allows city governments to handle certain services and enables the county to effectively concentrate on those things it does for the vast majority of the county.

It is important to acknowledge that although there have been several new cities created in DeKalb in recent years, we have reached a point where, in several instances, remaining unincorporated areas proposed to be incorporated into new cities would be better served by nearby existing cities. Additionally, incorporating new cities in a way that creates large or small pockets of unincorporated territory separated by one or more cities will only make the task of serving those areas more difficult for the county and service delivery to those areas will suffer as a result. Indeed, there are already existing small illogical pockets of unincorporated area that should be added to an adjacent city in a way that enhances the delivery of services for both the county, city, and those within the unincorporated pocket.

Incorporating new cities impacts not only the county, but existing cities as well. Incorporating areas, either into new cities or by annexation, should be done with careful consideration of service delivery that includes logical extension of existing city service capacity along existing transportation routes, but also with an appreciation for what areas comprise logical communities of interest. The creation of any new cities must be done with thought given to both the fiscal feasibility of the services contemplated by the supporters but also with a sincere evaluation of the likelihood of the city’s political feasibility and practical efficacy in light of the services proposed to be provided.

Annexation decisions also must be carefully considered. Successful annexation requires evaluating adjacent unincorporated areas in light of their financial sustainability within the annexing city in a way that is both responsive to the annexed area and responsible to the existing city constituents. The differences among the existing cities in terms of their size and service portfolio adds to the complexity of annexation decisions. The unique characteristics of each city, whether they are served by an independent school system or would have a difficult time maintaining their unique character by adding a large adjacent area must be considered. Although Georgia law provides limited methods authorizing local annexations, they pale in comparison to the plenary power of the General Assembly to annex territory into existing cities.

We therefore respectfully urge the General Assembly, in addition to careful consideration of the observations above, to undertake the following steps and to observe the following parameters regarding legislation to annex or to incorporate new cities:

1) Assist citizens, the county, and the cities by “cleaning up” existing split parcels and illogical small pockets of unincorporated territory that either exist as islands or fissures between existing cities or inside existing city limits.

2) Before creating any new city with boundaries that are immediately adjacent to an existing city, give the existing city an opportunity to extend its boundaries into the area. This can be done informally by asking for input or giving adjacent cities a “first pass” option within a certain distance of existing city limits. (As was done in Fulton County, voters in these areas can be given the opportunity to vote first on whether they would prefer to be annexed into an existing city or included as a part of a new city. At a minimum, there should be some formal public comment period before acting to foreclose annexation by existing cities.)

3) Take care not to frustrate the ability of city governments (new or existing) to provide critical services in order to lessen the impact on services currently offered by the county. Not only might such action be unconstitutional, create confusion, or lead to unintended consequences, but cities exist in many instances are in a position to provide a higher level of services than those provided by counties. Often this higher level of service makes the difference in transforming or maintaining a safe and prospering community. Hampering municipalities from providing higher levels of service undermines the very foundational concepts on which they rest.

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