New cities changing landscape

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

The cityhood trend continues in metro Atlanta, with various communities seeking to incorporate in south Fulton County and southeast DeKalb County. Today, the Fulton County chairman writes that many residents are not aware of the services, such as libraries and animal control, that Fulton must provide whether residents vote for cityhood or not. In our second column, the leader of the grassroots drive to establish the city of Stonecrest says incorporation will help rebrand the area and give southeast DeKalb a fresh start in light of the political corruption that has dominated headlines.

Despite more cities, Fulton still serves

By John Eaves

Fulton County is changing. The last 10 years have seen the cities of Sandy Springs, Milton, Johns Creek and Chattahoochee Hills come into existence.

Each was an area where Fulton County government previously provided municipal services. Voters in those areas wanted more localized control and received it. Now, voters in the remaining unincorporated area of southern Fulton are asking for the opportunity to choose having their own city, allowing themselves to join an existing city, or remaining unincorporated.

I believe they should have the opportunity to make that decision.

The Fulton Board of Commissioners has already spoken on this issue. The board agreed that residents of unincorporated areas should be allowed to make the decision at the ballot box regarding cityhood for south Fulton. House Bill 27, calling for cityhood, will be reintroduced in the coming session of the state Legislature.

It is understandable there is a desire for much more localized decision-making regarding how tax dollars are spent and resources are allocated. However, if the will of residents remains the same as in 2007, when citizens voted to remain unincorporated, Fulton will continue to provide those services, and at the highest levels possible.

Currently, residents of unincorporated south Fulton pay a separate tax other Fulton residents do not. That tax goes into our special services district fund and pays for municipal services such as zoning, parks, police and fire protection (countywide taxes go into Fulton’s general fund). If a referendum is successful, those taxes wouldn’t just go away; instead, those dollars would be put into a city’s coffers.

Regardless of the outcome of a possible cityhood vote, in the coming year, we have every intention of improving the services our residents receive. We are currently in our budget process and reviewing how we can provide services to residents more efficiently and with customer service in mind.

As I travel from Palmetto to Alpharetta and talk to people all over this great county, many are not aware of all the services the county provides. This question became especially vexing as we asked for more from residents last year, when the Board of Commissioners raised the property tax millage rate.

As I explained to residents at the time (and continue to do so), Fulton government is responsible for functions ranging from libraries to animal control to emergency management. We make sure the emergency room at Grady Memorial Hospital is available to residents in the most critical moments. Our county Health Department monitors potential public health crises. County senior centers meet the needs of an increasingly aging population.

A vote for or against cityhood won’t change any of these things.

I am proud of the work county employees have done providing municipal services, such as police and fire, to our unincorporated areas. Some south Fulton residents have praised the efforts of our police and fire personnel as they served these communities. The municipal services provided to these areas have been lauded for their quality, efficiency and relative value to our taxpayers. We are doing a good job in that area.

Still, I am not offended some residents in those areas remain interested in having more localized control. I see this moment as an opportunity, regardless of the legislation’s fate or a referendum’s outcome, to double down and show our residents that Fulton doesn’t just take your tax dollars, but provides a high level of service to constituents demanding as much.

I want constituents all over this county to understand we are working for them and will continue to do so, regardless of what happens on the floor of the state Capitol and, potentially, at the ballot box.

John Eaves is chairman of the Fulton County Commission.

New city of Stonecrest

By Jason Lary

We have a unique opportunity to mold our own future for years to come. We live in the southeast corridor of DeKalb County and can boast of good schools, affordable homes, several shopping districts, an abundance of worship choices, and commercial and industrial growth potential.

People want to live, work, play and worship in their own communities. We have most of those keys to success, absent the work. Unfortunately, there are not enough new significant job opportunities — technical, commercial or industrial — seeking to move or develop in southeast DeKalb.

Simply put, our road to salvation is economic development.

Good: We have one of the most beautiful areas in metropolitan Atlanta for sprawling homes and luxury apartment and rental living. Our green space is unmatched with Arabia Mountain National Heritage area. This includes fantastic walking and bike trails and beautiful scenery.

Better: Our commercial areas of Panola Road and Stonecrest Mall (including Evans Mill Road) boast of good restaurants, grocery stores, banks and convenient shopping. Our access to I-20 is quick and accessible.

Best: The Lithonia Industrial Boulevard corridor (Evans Mill and Turner Hill Road access) and the Panola business and industrial areas have the region’s most available, attractive business park offerings for light and heavy industry, new or expanding manufacturing and custom-built warehousing. Job, jobs and more jobs.

The problem is, we are the best-kept secret in the region. We must re-brand our corridor and prove to potential corporations, large and small, we are business friendly (industrial and commercial), our available workforce is smart and reliable, and an investment in the city of Stonecrest would yield the results they desire.

This is difficult to achieve with DeKalb in the current political climate and without proper representation. The Stonecrest area (District 5) has been without a commissioner for more than 16 months. That has not been from a lack of trying on the part of interim CEO Lee May and several other well-intended commissioners.

DeKalb must shed the skin of nonsense cultivated by years of infighting and mistrust. It is unfair to the citizens and taxpayers of our area to continue to allow this activity to erode our community. It dramatically affects economic development and the reputation to draw business.

If you were the CEO or president of a company looking to relocate, would you consider an area that had the reputation of grudge holding and political shenanigans? Would you tolerate politics that deprived one area of progress merely because of personal or political strife? Is that a place you would gamble your company’s future and investment?

May is young, highly intelligent, personable and an experienced and skilled legislator. His senior staff members are responsive and extremely competent. In my opinion, May knows DeKalb is going to change forever. Its municipal, operational and business model will have to change with it.

We submit that unincorporated territories will be the structure of the past, and all areas will be municipalized. We view the county as an excellent partner for services crucial for survival: watershed management, courts and police and fire, just to name a few. We believe the “boutique” structure of a new city would better respond to residents’ immediate desires in areas such as code enforcement, parks and recreation, and planning and zoning. This is how you grow the business and economic foundation of a city.

New city, new brand, new people in charge, and a fresh start. We could focus on driving business to our area, not away from it. We must develop our own economic development department with dedicated professionals to attract new and relocating businesses, industrial and commercial. We want to build a governmental and convention center and amphitheater in the heart of Stonecrest. We can drive our own cultural and business agenda by proving, “Quality lives here.”

A new city would help our struggling neighbor Lithonia. The city of Lithonia has great historic preservation but lacks the infrastructure and reputation for significant business growth. A new city of Stonecrest, with 50,000 residents, could help pull along Lithonia (with 1,800 residents) with a sheer influx of jobs and opportunities in the Lithonia industrial area, including an intergovernmental agreement. The residual benefits would be profound.

Now is the time to control our future. The city of Stonecrest is the answer.

Jason Lary, a health care and insurance executive, is president of the Stonecrest City Alliance.

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