One Man’s Opinion: Let The Buck Stop Here

For several decades of my life, Buckhead was one of my favorite parts of Atlanta.  The finest restaurants, the nightlife, as well as the shopping and entertainment districts, were almost unparalleled in the southeast.  But the Buckhead that was in many ways is not the Buckhead of today, and like it or not, the City of Atlanta government did not cause many of the challenges that the community has been more recently experiencing.

The most beautiful houses in Atlanta, some say in the state, still line streets the streets of West Paces Ferry, Wieuca Road, Tuxedo Road, and the like, and the money flowing into and out of those homes and the Buckhead business/entertainment and retail district often show the highest disposable incomes in the state.  Random and increasingly violent crime rates are occurring across the nation, however troubling patterns have developed more recently in Buckhead.  That said, a new stand-up police department formed from creating a new “City of Buckhead,” would not happen overnight, and would not be likely to freeze or reverse those trends by itself.

An unincorporated area, incorporating, becoming a municipality, and following state law in offering at least four required services is not cleaving or cherry-picking property or residents out of an existing municipality.  That has been tried once previously when the gated community of Eagle’s Landing in Henry County had its eyes on cityhood.  The problem was without jacking property taxes for their residents through the roof, they needed some retail, light industrial, and sales taxes revenues to make their math work...submitting proposed maps for a City of Eagle’s Landing which would subtract about 20 percent of the land within the existing city of Stockbridge, Georgia, as well as capture roughly 40-50% of that city’s annual sales tax and hotel/motel tax revenues, as Stockbridge does not charge residential property taxes.

Thankfully the voters of Stockbridge, and even in some precincts of the proposed Eagle’s Landing, saw that there was a long list of unanswered questions.  How would the existing bonded debt of the City of Stockbridge be divided and repaid?  What about retired Stockbridge City employee pension and retirement benefit expenses?  Stockbridge voters soundly defeated the proposal, 57 NO to 43 percent YES, in a universe of roughly 7500 voters.

Thankfully there is finally an organized voice of opposition to the Buckhead cityhood movement, and the Atlanta business community is now rallying to defend Georgia’s Capital City if a bit late to the game.  Recently, more than 100 of the largest property owners and developers in Buckhead, began to realize what just might happen to their property tax assessments and tax rates in a new municipality, NOT subject to any of the development contracts, tax abatements or other incentives meted out previously by the City of Atlanta.

Those property owners are requesting that the Georgia General Assembly hit the ‘pause’ button on consideration of a Buckhead cityhood referendum.  Their collective properties pay roughly $54-million in property taxes annually to the City of Atlanta.  If the General Assembly won’t ‘pause’ the discussions, they are requesting to be drawn OUT of the proposed new city of Buckhead.  These properties include both major malls and much of the ‘golden goose’ portions of the proposed municipality.

And as a more practical matter, if our State Constitution is of any real concern, if affluent communities in almost any city can, in essence, breakaway, sub-divide, gate themselves off, and give no concern to financing the broader costs of public schools, existing infrastructure, bonded debt, pension, and retirement obligations and ownership of commons assets (schools, parks, roads & bridges), how will the bonding agencies treat Georgia’s highest possible ratings for future bonded debt?  Or won’t the bonding ability of major cities across the nation come into question once this precedent set?

And besides, Georgia already has a town of Buckhead, 65 miles east of Atlanta, not far off I-20.  Now a sleepy hamlet of less than 200, it was once a bustling rail burg between Atlanta and Augusta.  Though everything has a price, it does have its own Buckhead Post Office and Zip Code, if they later sell those to this small group of rich folks in Atlanta,  I hope they extract a pretty penny for them.  And if you consider yourself an Atlanta native as I do, I doubt a decade from now you want to be thinking about the Atlanta that was, and what is left of an Atlanta then.  It’s time for this Buck to stop here.

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