An organized opposition to the creation of a city of East Cobb has formed and is seeking financial support to help build its case against cityhood.
The proposed city’s boundaries would consist primarily of Commissioner Bob Ott’s District 2 north of the Cumberland Community Improvement District and outside the city of Marietta. It would be Cobb’s seventh and largest city, totaling about 97,000 residents, making it the eighth largest city in Georgia.
Ott maintains “no publicly stated opinion” on cityhood but says it should be “up to the citizens of east Cobb to decide.”
But what do east Cobb residents have to gain from cityhood? That is among the questions Bill Simon and others opposing the measure are asking. A nearly 30-year resident of east Cobb, Simon is one of the four publicly disclosed coordinators of the East Cobb Alliance, whose website describes the group as a nonpartisan coalition of residents, businesses and other stakeholders who believe “there is no need to incorporate any part” of east Cobb.
Simon, whose work experience includes consulting engineering on plumbing and fire protection design, data analysis consulting and marketing, said he bought his house specifically in unincorporated Cobb because it was “less control, less restrictions, less government.
“And so I’m fine with remaining in the county, per se — I don’t want another layer of government of a city imposed upon me,” Simon added.
Another cityhood opponent, Emmanuel Kipreos, has lived in east Cobb with his family the past two years but has been a Cobb resident the last 25 years. Married with three children, Kipreos says he is also fine with the status quo offered by the unincorporated portion of the county.
A certified management accountant with both an MBA and BBA in finance, Kipreos says the numbers shared by cityhood proponents do not seem to add up. He points to the East Cobb feasibility study’s assumption that funding public safety would cost $213 per resident of the proposed city, while those residing today in unincorporated Cobb contribute $363 per person.
The opposition group’s data shows that several other metro cities — Milton, Roswell and Sandy Springs, for instance — each have their residents fork over $300 per person toward public safety.
“Why would we want to give up, in regards to public safety, the very good service, as I see it, of fire and police to get less service versus what we currently enjoy right now?” Kipreos asked. “They want to create a new fire department — that’s one of their points, I believe — but the Cobb County Fire Department is an ISO (Class) 1 rated fire department, so we’re going to give that up and go to what? We don’t even know yet.”
RESIDENTS WOULD BENEFIT FROM CITYHOOD, PROPONENT SAYS
David Birdwell is one member of the Committee for Cityhood in East Cobb, which has presented arguments in favor of establishing the city. An east Cobb resident and entrepreneur with executive experience in the commercial real estate industry and prior experience as a CPA, Birdwell has and currently contends that forming East Cobb “would provide more and better services at a lower cost to taxpayers,” citing the previously released feasibility study.
“We’re not sailing into uncharted territory. There are new cities all over the metro region, and what you hear from those residents is overwhelming satisfaction with the decision to form a city,” Birdwell told the MDJ on Friday.
Birdwell argues that cityhood would lead to better services and more local control over how the area grows. Cityhood supporters earlier this year also pointed to Cobb’s staffing challenges in public safety that had been attributed to lagging pay rates compared to other metro governments.
A new city with its own public safety departments, Birdwell said, would “be able to boost pay and benefits for those first responders, which will improve recruitment and retention.”
Kipreos doesn’t buy it, saying that while he believes the police pay issue does exist, the county has been addressing it. The county will implement a 7% pay increase for public safety personnel in its fiscal 2020 budget.
“I’ll turn (their) question around — why would we want to create an entire city just to increase police pay?” Kipreos asked.
Simon, meanwhile, disputes the “local control” argument used by cityhood proponents.
“I don’t trust my neighbors to do a better job of managing the zoning than what has already been going on at the county. Thankfully, Bob Ott and the other commissioners opposed the Isakson Living development that was going to put a high density development inside the east Cobb area,” Simon said.
Cobb commissioners denied Atlanta-based Isakson Living’s request to rezone an east Cobb property for a senior living project in March 2015. The company and the landowner, Wylene Tritt, sued the county over the decision, which went through multiple rounds of mediation.
The suit was dropped in September 2016, with an Isakson Living official saying the county’s requests to reduce the number of residences at the senior living development would prevent the company from providing its expected level of services and accommodations.
“The question I would have for the ‘pro-’ side,” Simon said, “What zonings have been turned down that any of them would have liked to have seen passed? What’s broken?”
As of Friday, the East Cobb Alliance’s Facebook page had been liked by more than 175 people, while a GoFundMe campaign to help the group raise additional funds to pay for government records had garnered $415. The fundraiser is linked on the group’s page, eastcobballiance.com.
Birdwell says his group is planning a town hall date for mid- to late September, with a date and location expected to be firmed up next week. Information on his group can be found at eastcobbcityhood.com.
While east Cobb residents may ultimately decide the issue, state legislators will have to agree next year to put the question before voters. Sponsored by state Rep. Matt Dollar, R-east Cobb, House Bill 718 was filed this spring and awaits action as representatives return to work in January.
If the bill is passed and signed by Gov. Brian Kemp, then at the earliest, voters could decide the cityhood matter in the general primary on May 19, 2020, with the approval of cityhood triggering a vote to fill municipal offices in that year’s November general election.
“We think that the more voters study the issue, the more they’ll support cityhood,” Birdwell says. “That’s the case for everyone who’s gotten involved in this effort, and that sentiment is growing.”