As exasperated prison camp captain Strother Martin told recalcitrant inmate Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke before throwing him in chains after another escape, "What we've got here is failure to communicate."
Fast forward from a steamy Southern chain gang of long ago to the tony area of Vinings today and what we seem to have here is another failure to communicate.
There is an effort among a group of locals to see whether or not there is an interest in creating a City of Vinings. The Vinings Village Homeowners Association claims that it is a small group pushing the idea and that it came “as a complete surprise.” Further, the Association says, “Vinings has always been open to ideas and programs that can be of community benefit. This has not been the case with the current city initiative.”
The group cites their survey saying that only 20 of its members favor the idea of a new city, 99 oppose it and 48 have not decided. Responses have ranged from concerns about a new and unneeded layer of government to higher taxes to racism to “swaggering, sweaty politicians trying to impose their will.”
Hold your horses, Tom Ham says. Ham, the current president of the Vinings Historic Preservation Society and a local marketing executive, is heading up the Vinings Exploratory Committee. He says nobody is talking about creating a new city. At least not yet. Not until a feasibility study is completed to determine whether a City of Vinings could operate successfully and without raising taxes.
During this past Legislative session, state Reps. John Carson, R-northeast Cobb, and Erick Allen, D-Vinings, filed a bill to allow a referendum on Vinings cityhood. Before that can happen, a feasibility study is required.
Ham says a poll commissioned by the exploratory committee and conducted by Landmark Communications asked if residents would be in favor of a feasibility study. More than 70 percent of respondents said yes, roughly 13 percent opposed a study and 16 percent had no opinion.
Local community activist Ron Sifen has conducted his own survey and says more than 96 percent of the respondents agree with the idea of doing a feasibility study.
The Vinings Exploratory Committee has contracted with the Carl Vinson Institute at the University of Georgia to carry out the study which Ham estimates will take four months and cost $22,000. So far, the committee has raised some $14,000 from private sources. He says he is confident they will raise the additional money prior to the completion of the project.
Ham says, “We're not allowed to nor are we going to try to influence the feasibility study. The Carl Vinson Institute is so well respected, they wouldn't listen to us or the opposition or anybody. They are totally independent.” I will vouch for that.
When the study in finished in the fall, Ham says it will be released for public consumption. “We are taking the approach of ‘let the chips fall where they may,’” he says.
Following release of the feasibility study, a vote will be required in the 2022 session of the General Assembly in order to go forward with a referendum and, if approved, will require the governor’s signature. Assuming this all happens, a vote by residents would take place November 8, 2022, on creating a City of Vinings. If passed, plans are to have the city up and running by June 30, 2023.
The city would be small, 7,000-8,000 residents with 4 part-time city council members, a mayor and a city manager.
As for concerns that a new city would add another layer of government on the citizens, Ham says, not true. “ It's basically taking three functions from the county and moving them over here to local control.” Those three are zoning, code enforcement and parks and recreation only. All other county services, including fire and police, would continue as is.
Another issue raised by opponents of a new city is increased taxes. Ham says the city charter would prevent raising taxes as well as building municipal buildings, floating bonds or taking on any additional services without the approval of city residents – as in a vote.
Ham also points out also the city would get a per capita allocation of SPLOST money. He says, “Most people don't realize that if you're an unincorporated area, you get what the county gives you and you don’t get to specify where the money goes.” Being a city would change that.
As a homeowner in Vinings who has been here longer than most everyone on both sides of the issue, I say let’s wait and see what the Carl Vinson Institute tell us about whether cityhood is doable or not. If not, okay. If so, then let’s vote on whether or not we want to be a city. Yes or no. But let’s do it based on facts, not hyperbole.
The Vinings Exploratory Committee has communicated their position. I now await the Vinings Village Homeowners Association’s side of the story. What this issue doesn’t need here is a failure to communicate.