City of East Cobb Vote Set for May 2022

City of East Cobb Vote Set for May 2022

Both chambers of the Georgia General Assembly have approved legislation enabling residents to vote on whether a swath of unincorporated Cobb County will become a city.

Dave Schechter is a veteran journalist whose career includes writing and producing reports from Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East.

East Cobb petitions to become the City of East Cobb.
East Cobb petitions to become the City of East Cobb.

Whether East Cobb becomes a city or remains an unincorporated area will be on the May 24 ballot.

Gov. Brian Kemp signed on Feb. 15 the legislation enabling a referendum on the issue. If approved, elections for mayor and city council would be on the Nov. 8 general election ballot, and the city of East Cobb would begin operations in January 2023.This is the proposed City of East Cobb map.The three synagogues in the proposed city — Temple Kol Emeth, Congregation Etz Chaim, and Chabad Lubavitch of Cobb County — have not taken a position on the issue. “We are nonetheless pleased by the attention being paid to East Cobb on the statewide level. We feel this issue is garnering so much attention in no small measure because East Cobb continues to be a wonderful place to raise a family, retire and to live a fully committed Jewish life,” said Etz Chaim’s executive director, Marty Gilbert.

The feasibility study required by law was conducted for proponents by The Center for State and Local Finance, in the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University. “We find that the proposed city of East Cobb would be financially feasible,” the study said. Revenues were estimated at $27.7 million and expenses at $24.6 million. The largest revenue source would be an estimated $15.6 million in property taxes and the largest expense $14.3 million for public safety, which includes police and fire services.

The new city would take responsibility for zoning and planning, code enforcement, parks and recreation, public safety and road maintenance. Other services would remain with the county.

East Cobb is a “wonderful place to live a fully committed Jewish life,” Marty Gilbert said.

Arguments in support of a new city center on East Cobb’s identity as a unique place, a desire for greater local representation and worries that the county government is encouraging development that would increase population density. Arguments against the new city focus on adding another layer of government, concern about increased taxes and fees and fears that the new city will cost more than estimated.

“If you look at the representation in Cobb County in general, there’s a reason why there are four cityhood initiatives,” said Cindy Cooperman, who has been part of the Committee for East Cobb Cityhood since the referendum legislation was filed last March. The other three would-be cities are Vinings, Lost Mountain and Mableton.

Cooperman said that “local representation closer to the people” is important, as Cobb County commissioners each represent about 180,000 people, while the proposed city of East Cobb would have a population of about 59,000.

“It’s not just representation of the people,” she told the AJT. “It’s a community of interest in itself. It’s more suburban out here. … We’re mostly concerned about overdevelopment. If you look at the age of the homes and the neighborhoods here, it’s a lot of single-family homes. People want to have a say about how East Cobb will look moving forward.”

“If you like living with a little more freedom, you can move to East Cobb,” Bill Simon said.

Bill Simon, who is active in the East Cobb Alliance, which opposes creation of a new city, said, “East Cobb has been unincorporated for 40-plus years. People choose to live in unincorporated East Cobb because it’s not a city. … There are six cities already incorporated in Cobb County. If you like living with a little more freedom, you can move to East Cobb and set up shop.”

“The other six cities operate at a higher millage rate on the homeowner and commercial property owners, so there’s no way that a city of East Cobb can operate cheaper than the county can,” Simon told the AJT. There still will be county taxes, so “No one is escaping anything.”

A city of East Cobb would be one of the largest in Cobb County, along with Marietta (approx. 60,500) and Smyrna (approx. 56,200). Its borders would be Shallowford Road to the north, the Cobb County line to the east and south, the Chattahoochee River to the south, and on the west by Sope Creek and Shadowlawn, Old Canton, Murdock and Hembree roads.

“We’re mostly concerned about overdevelopment,” said Cindy Cooperman.

The city would take in parts of the attendance zone of Walton, Pope and Wheeler public high schools.

In the legislative pipeline behind the East Cobb cityhood proposal are bills for referendums in Lost Mountain and Vinings, which have cleared the House and await Senate consideration. A Mableton referendum remains in the House.

“In the last 17 years, the Georgia General Assembly has had 11 bills to allow voters in unincorporated areas to vote on cityhood. Ten of those passed. One of them failed by the voters. Ultimately, here in the General Assembly, we do not create cities, we only create the opportunity for the citizens in those areas to vote,” Republican Sen. John Albers, of Roswell, said on the Senate floor.

That referendum in May might hinge on a federal judge, who has warned that the primaries could be delayed if he finds that the congressional district map redrawn after the 2020 Census illegally diminishes the representation of African American voters.

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