Spurred by House Bill 2 and other legislative action, the debate over city-county annexation is heating up. Members of the Georgia General Assembly hope to reform – by means of legislation – current annexation disputes between city and county governments by establishing a permanent mediation process.
Several bills, including one that would expand a county’s ability to fight city annexations and another that would make it easier for property owners to de-annex from cities, are up for debate and may be getting more traction than previous reform efforts.
Last week, Georgia Speaker of the House Glenn Richardson told county commissioners in town for a conference that he’s committed to reform. Later in the week, Richardson, R-Hiram, said it should be easier to de-annex from a city and that he wants to see a system of binding arbitration when property owners, cities and counties can’t agree.
Richardson, a longtime county attorney for Paulding County, said change is unlikely this year, but he’s serious about seeing it.
“We’re probably talking about ’08,” he said.
And what is the problem with the present system?
Currently counties can object to an annexation, but there’s no binding avenue to stop the annexation or ensuing zoning changes, according to the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, which is aggressively seeking change.
Warner Robins is one of the fastest growing cities in the state and is known for aggressively annexing property.
The Houston County Commission gets along just fine with the city’s government – and the city governments in Centerville and Perry, Commissioner Tom McMichael said. Still, McMichael and other Houston commissioners are backing reforms to give counties more say so over the future zoning of annexed properties.
“You’re one election away from it being a problem … so we need some regulation,” McMichael said.
McMichael said a county may allow only a certain number of houses per acre. But a city can allow more, and that increased density affects not only recently annexed properties but also unincorporated ones nearby.