That sucking sound you hear is the City of Atlanta. The City Never Too Busy to Brag faces the real prospect of seeing the Buckhead area split off into a new city.
A feasibility study paid for by supporters of the Buckhead cityhood movement and conducted by the Valdosta State University Center for South Georgia Regional Impact concludes that a Buckhead City is very doable.
The city would be home to about 103,000 residents in an area 25 square miles, stretching from the I-75 and I-85 divide on the south to Atlanta’s northern and northwestern borders.
The study says that Buckhead City would likely have annual revenues of approximately $203 million and annual expenses of approximately $90 million. The surplus $113 million could be used on long neglected issues such as infrastructure maintenance. (Have you traveled down West Paces Ferry Road recently?)
According to an analysis by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Buckhead currently accounts for about 20% of the city’s population but represents about 40% of Atlanta’s assessed property values. The assessed value of all the real estate in Atlanta currently totals nearly $35 billion. Over $14 billion of that is in Buckhead.
Buckhead City would have its own mayor, city council, city administration, fire department, municipal courts, public works department and its own police department. The feasibility study projects 250 Buckhead City police officers, 175 of them being patrol officers. Currently, Atlanta has 80 police officers assigned to Buckhead.
The City of Atlanta has no one to blame but itself. It has long treated Buckhead like a cash cow and a political eunuch. Because the area is populated by primarily white people, their influence is minimal in a city long politically dominated by Blacks.
Now, it seems thugsters have found Buckhead to be easy pickings. When asked why he robbed banks, notorious bank robber Willie Sutton reputedly said, “Because that’s where the money is.” So it seems with Buckhead crime.
Bill White, CEO and chair of the Buckhead City Committee which is spearheading the incorporation effort, calls Buckhead “a war zone.”
To get into fashionable Lenox Square these days, one must go through metal detectors. Now, mall management has announced that beginning next week, those under the age of 18 must leave the property by 3 p.m. or be accompanied by a parent or adult 21 or older. That is, if you can get past the Water Boys blocking traffic and harassing you on Peachtree Road.
Critics say starting a new city won’t necessarily reduce violent crime. (Wanna bet?) They also worry that Buckhead City would leave the city of Atlanta with serious financial problems, if so much commercial and residential tax revenue goes away. “The study is about Buckhead City, not Atlanta,” says White.
As sure as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, get ready for the race card to be played. It is as much a part of Atlanta’s DNA as is the boasting.
I will also be interested in the media coverage, particularly the position taken by the Atlanta Newspapers. They left the city long ago and moved to trendy digs in Dunwoody where they then proceeded to go bonkers over the move of the Atlanta Braves to Cobb County. (“Don’t do as I do, do as I say.”) A number of their writers and reporters don’t live within the Atlanta city limits. Some are even our neighbors here in Braves country.
What is next for a possible Buckhead City? The state requires that after a feasibility study shows cityhood is achievable, legislation proposing incorporation may then be considered. If legislation is approved, a referendum is the next step and those living within the proposed city limits will have an opportunity to vote whether or not to incorporate. If they do, it will require the governor’s signature and then all is in place to put a city together. So far, Republican members in the Legislature seem inclined to move the process forward.
Meanwhile, organizers in Vinings await the results of their own feasibility study due out next month from the Vinson Institute at the University of Georgia. Unlike Buckhead, a City of Vinings would be limited in scope to only three functions -- zoning, code enforcement and parks and recreation. All other county services, including fire and police, would continue as is.
As for me, the closer citizens are to their government, the better. If Atlanta can’t get a handle on crime in Buckhead and if the Cobb County Commission can blithely approve zoning for new construction in an area where airplanes can fall out of the sky, city incorporation – whether it be Buckhead or Vinings – deserves a serious look.