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29 January 2015

Legislative Annexation of Unincorporated South Fulton County Cannot Occur Without a Referendum

Attend one of the many meetings promoting the proposed city of South Fulton, and you're likely to hear some variation of this:

If we do not create the city of South Fulton, the Georgia General Assembly will force you into an existing city of their choosing.

Cityhood advocate Harold Reid told residents gathered at a March, 2014 Cliftondale Community Club meeting that one of the pro-city organizations, South Fulton United, was formed to "protect ourselves against forced annexation into existing cities" [Lesser, Gayle (2 April 2014). March 2014 Minutes. Cliftondale Community Club. Retrieved on 29 January 2015.].

Fulton County government employee James Reese, a resident of unincorporated south Fulton, wrote on the Cascade Patch website, "My family and I are under the threat of forced annexation vs city hood. No choice vs a choice. I choose CITYHOOD."

Even Fairburn Mayor Mario Avery raised the spectre of forced annexation by the state legislature in his annual State of the City address.

If south Fulton County becomes a city, he said, there will be hit to Fairburn’s collection of local option sales taxes, divided by population among the municipalities.

If it does not, the Legislature may decide to annex unincorporated parts into cities, requiring police and fire services to be provided for more residents.

“That costs money that’s not budgeted,” Avery said.

Cochran, Noreen (28 January 2015). Fairburn mayor touts city’s growth. South Fulton Neighbor. Retrieved on 29 January 2015.

But what does state law have to say about all these rumors of forced annexation should the proposed city of South Fulton not be incorporated?

The Official Code of Georgia Annotated (O.C.G.A.) contains an entire section governing annexation.

O.C.G.A. 36-36-20 through 36-36-23 describes the 100% method. O.C.G.A. 36-36-30 through 36-36-40 covers the 60% method. O.C.G.A. 36-36-50 through 36-36-61 talks about the resolution and referendum method. And O.C.G.A. 36-36-15 through 36-36-16 discusses legislative annexation.

§ 36-36-16. Procedures for annexation; referendum.

(a) Local Acts of the General Assembly proposing annexation of any area comprised of more than 50 percent by acreage of property used for residential purposes shall be adopted pursuant to the procedures of this article.

(b) Such bill may include a requirement for referendum approval of the annexation under such terms and conditions as specified in such local law; provided, however, if the number of residents in the area to be annexed exceeds 3 percent of the population of the municipal corporation or 500 people, whichever is less, as determined by the most recent United States decennial census, referendum approval shall be required in the area to be annexed. The cost of holding the referendum required by this article shall be paid from funds of the municipality proposing the annexation.

Susan Moore, who serves as General Counsel for the Georgia Municipal Association, puts this in plain English for us.

". . .the Georgia General Assembly may change a municipality’s boundaries and annex property into the municipal limits by enacting local legislation. Where more than fifty percent of an area proposed for annexation by local act is 'used for residential purposes' and the number of residents to be annexed exceeds 3 percent of the city’s current population or 500 people, whichever is less, a referendum on annexation must be held in the area to be annexed."

With an estimated population approaching 100,000 people, there are very few areas in unincorporated south Fulton County that could avoid legislative annexation without a referendum.

If the Georgia General Assembly wanted to force Old National Highway and Flat Shoals Road into Union City, there would have to be a referendum. If the legislature wanted to force Cliftondale into Fairburn, there would have to be a referendum. If lawmakers wanted to force Welcome All Road into East Point, there would have to be a referendum.

It would then be up to the registered voters in each affected area to approve or reject the Georgia General Assembly's move to place them in an existing city.