Editor’s note: Annexations and tax breaks have become politically contentious issues between many county and city governments. DeKalb County and Brookhaven have been involved in recent legal disputes over both issues; in Atlanta, the city government and public school system have demanded more control over tax abatements granted by Fulton County’s development authority. The Reporter asked state Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver to explain a package of legislation she is proposing to reform annexations and abatements.

The creation of the new city of Sandy Springs in 2005 after political control of the Georgia General Assembly shifted to the Republicans impacted the local governments of existing cities and counties throughout the Atlanta region.

Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur) is the state representative for District 82, which includes part of Brookhaven.

Since 2005, all of Fulton County has been municipalized with the creation of new cities of Milton, Johns Creek and South Fulton and the expansion of existing cities.  In DeKalb County, the city of Dunwoody was created in 2008, Brookhaven in 2012, Tucker in 2016, and Stonecrest in 2017.  Other new cities have been proposed, the voters have voted against a few, and legislation to create more municipalities will be filed in the 2021 session. In and around all these incorporations are related annexations and expansions of new city lines with and without opposition, and many lawsuits.

For many of these political creations, opposition has been contentious and costly, whether it has come from citizens or businesses. It is also true, however, that the new cities are popular with most voters, and the annexations have benefited businesses and cities. What is not clear is whether these changes have benefited the larger number of citizens who continue to live in unincorporated portions of counties.

None of these new cities or annexations has been examined in view of comprehensive planning or economic development of the counties impacted.  And most have offered new forms of tax benefits to developers and property owners as inducements to annexations.

My district, HD 82, includes parts of Decatur, Brookhaven, Chamblee and Tucker, and has been ground central in a variety of cityhood and annexation proposals.  Prior maps have included my neighborhood of Druid Hills in efforts to incorporate what remains of unincorporated DeKalb County.

I have filed proposed legislation (House Bills 23, 24 and 66) to strengthen the two existing statutes that provide oversight to annexations and issuance of bonds in tax abatement offerings (OCGA 36-36-110 and 111, and OCGA 36-82-77).  The purpose of these measures is to provide greater transparency and allow participation by impacted local governments, including school systems. My first priority is to create public discussion for citizens and all the interested governments and stakeholders to propose how we can improve the statutory processes for annexations and new cities.

OCGA Title 36-36-110 et seq provides a procedure for a county to object to a petition for annexation filed with a city and for the Department of Community Affairs to create arbitration panels to hear the dispute based on specific standards, and this procedure most recently has been used by DeKalb County to object to an annexation filed by the city of Brookhaven. My bill, HB 23, gives the local Board of Education ability to file an objection to an annexation and utilize the arbitration panel review process.

The companion proposal, HB 24, amends the Title 36-36-111 et seq annexation procedure by requiring the notice of the filing of the annexation petition to disclose any proposed tax abatements, rebates or other financial incentives that a development authority offers the annexing property owners.

Finally, HB 66 grants standing to any local school system or other governing authority petitioning for revenue bond validation under OCGA 36-82-77.  Recently, a DeKalb Superior Court judge granted standing to DeKalb County School District in a bond validation proceeding over the objection of a development authority.

Since prefiling these bills in November, I have met with lawyers for Brookhaven and DeKalb County and representatives from the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia and Georgia Cities United, and I have solicited advice from many others.  From these discussions, I have made changes to early drafts based on good and generous advice.  I am ready to and hope we can continue these helpful discussions in hearings before the House Governmental Affairs Committee and its new chair, Darlene Taylor.

Our current systems for city creation and the multiple annexation procedures need reform to create greater transparency and participation.

Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur) is the state representative for District 82, which includes part of Brookhaven.