Cobb Commission Chair Lisa Cupid and the county staff are preparing to transfer services to as many as four proposed cities coming up for referendum, despite uncertainty over the fiscal impact and logistics.
Residents will decide on May 24 whether to incorporate East Cobb, Lost Mountain and Vinings. Residents of Mableton will vote Nov. 8.
The county’s chief financial officer, Bill Volckmann, estimated the county would lose more than $40 million a year in revenue if all four municipalities are approved. That loss takes into account estimated savings of a little over $4 million, he said.
Cupid said in an interview she has a task force preparing for that scenario.
“We started tapping into the agencies that have services connected to the services that the cities would provide,” Cupid said. “There’s this informal group of leaders within the county that have been weighing the impact and helping to provide responses to the public’s questions they have regarding those specific cities.”
Once a rural county, Cobb has become denser and more urban with the growth of metro Atlanta. Currently, about 25% of its population lives in one of its six cities – Acworth, Austell, Kennesaw, Marietta, Powder Spring and Smyrna. With four more, 52% would be living in cities, according to census data.
Cupid said she doesn’t know what the transition will look like, but she is doing everything she can to ensure a smooth transfer of services between the county and any new city. She said she also doesn’t yet know if the changes would require layoffs of county employees or otherwise impact county services.
“I mean, right now there’s so many unknowns,” Cupid said.
The four new cities are only proposing to provide some services, and will still depend on the county to provide the rest. For example, the city of East Cobb would have its own public safety, but would still use the county for sanitation.
Cobb’s Board of Commissioners held a special work session earlier this year, where board members questioned how the proposed cities would provide some services and what their respective budgets would be.
All four of the proposed cities are planning to have their own parks and recreation departments, but officials complained that the information in the feasibility studies for each of the proposed cities was too vague.
“We’re starting to see a lot of costs that I think people aren’t necessarily grasping, because we weren’t grasping them either until we started looking at them,” said Cobb Parks Director Michael Brantley.
Cobb County Fire Chief Bill Johnson also expressed concern about how a city of East Cobb, in particular, would provide fire services commensurate with the county’s.
Randy Crider, the county director of public safety, said the residents of East Cobb “deserve the best services they can get.”
“It concerns me, moving forward, because there are a lot of questions I don’t have answers to,” he said.
Proponents of East Cobb cityhood have brushed aside concerns that the feasibility studies do not address budgeting and services sufficiently.
Former state Rep. Matt Dollar, who sponsored the bill allowing the vote on East Cobb, said the feasibility study was designed so that the new city could “deliver fire services at the same or similar quality level as residents receive today.”
Craig Chapin, an East Cobb Cityhood committee member, said parks and public safety were “very important elements” to the community and it was “critical” they be included.