Credit: Capitol Beat News Service
Atlanta Democrats urge lawmakers to 'put the brakes' on Buckhead cityhood
The growing movement to turn Atlanta’s wealthiest community into its own city took on new opposition Monday.
Democratic members of the city of Atlanta’s legislative delegation will deliver a letter to Georgia House Speaker David Ralston and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, urging them to reject efforts from out-of-area lawmakers to push forward a bill that would allow Buckhead a path to cityhood.
“There is a move underway to remove Buckhead — the beautiful, wonderful neighborhood that we all enjoy — from the city of Atlanta,” said state Sen. Nan Orrock, who chairs Atlanta’s legislative delegation. “The senators who I’ve seen pushing this don’t live in Atlanta.
“We’re here to say, put on the brakes,” Orrock said. “Buckhead doesn’t need to leave Atlanta.”
A city of Buckhead would carve about 25 square miles — or about 18% of the city of Atlanta’s land area — and create Georgia’s 10th largest municipality. It would also include about 20% of the city’s population and cost the city of Atlanta more than $250 million in property, sales and lodging taxes, as well as business license revenues.
Those figures come from a KB Advisory Group analysis. Earlier this month, the joint House Study Committee on Annexation and Cityhood and the Governmental Affairs Committee heard testimony from several officials about how a city of Buckhead would impact Atlanta and the state.
“I live in Buckhead, but Atlanta is my home,” said state Rep. Betsy Holland, who chairs the city of Atlanta’s House delegation. “Carving out this part of Atlanta will have a devastating effect on my family.”
Both Holland and state Sen. Jen Jordan said they were worried about the thousands of Buckhead-based students who attend Atlanta Public Schools (APS).
“APS owns those buildings and property,” Jordan said. “Those schools don’t become the property of a city of Buckhead. What happens to those properties? Who becomes eligible to lease or sell them? APS is under no obligation to service children who don’t live in the city of Atlanta. If APS decides not to teach those kids, they fall into the jurisdiction of the Fulton County school system, and that system doesn’t have the plans, capacities, finances or staff to absorb them.”
“We’ve heard Buckhead wants a divorce from Atlanta,” said state Sen. Sonya Halpern. “What we need is a marriage counselor.”
Halpern acknowledged the issue of crime in the community, which is a strong reason some residents and groups are seeking their own city. She said she was at the Peachtree Battle shopping center back in September when a deadly shooting broke out in the parking lot.
“I urge the people who are leading this cityhood movement to put their time and efforts and financial resources to work with this upcoming new mayor, this new city council and with us to solve these problems,” she said. “The answer is not leaving the city. Increasing the police presence and fixing our sidewalks and potholes and streets won’t happen if Buckhead leaves Atlanta.”
Orrock cited opposition from the Georgia Municipal Association to a Buckhead de-annexation.
“This is the worst thing we can do for Atlanta but also for Buckhead and Georgia,” she said. “Carving up a capital city will increase political, social and civil disorder.”
Orrock also said she doesn’t foresee a strict, party-line vote on the issue.
“You will have to search far and wide for a Buckhead business that supports cityhood,” she said. “The business community has said loudly, ‘Do not move forward on this.’
“You start down this track, where does it end? Will Savannah want to split up? What about Athens? How are you going to split that up?”
This story comes to GPB through a reporting partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.