KENNESAW, Ga. – Cobb Commission Chairwoman Lisa Cupid said the county may have to increase taxes if several of its cityhood movements are successful.
In a recent interview, Cupid highlighted the potential problems with Lost Mountain, East Cobb, Vinings and Mableton forming their own cities, particularly the possibility of Cobb having to increase its taxes to account for fewer users of its services.
Cityhood proponents often claim that the services they desire aren’t being provided by the county, Cupid said, but efforts by the Board of Commissioners to provide new or improved services to the public are often met with fear of tax increases.
“Now [people] want to create a city which is going to have to fund itself,” Cupid said. “So you’re increasing taxes, we’re increasing taxes — guess what, everybody’s paying more taxes, and that’s what we didn’t want to do in the first place.”
The chairman of the Committee for East Cobb Cityhood, Craig Chapin, said it’s still too early to make the assertion that incorporation will increase taxes for residents.
“We want to start with a feasibility study and understand what makes sense,” Chapin said. “The city-lite model seems like the right way to move forward … it gives you the ability to have local control of those issues that are most salient in your area.”
It’s precisely the city-lite model that causes some concern for Cupid. The model — proposed by all four areas of Cobb pursuing cityhood — limits the number of services each area could provide. The proposed city of Vinings, for example, would provide planning and zoning, code enforcement, and parks and recreation, but not services such as police and fire departments or waste disposal, which would still be provided by the county.
Cupid said this would complicate how much residents would pay in city and county taxes.
“It’s going to be interesting,” Cupid said. “[I’m] not going to say it’s impossible, but it certainly causes concern for our traditional cities.”
For a lot of cityhood advocates, such as Vinings Exploratory Committee member Tom Ham, the push for cityhood comes from a desire to have self-determination. From ensuring encroachment from surrounding cities such as Smyrna doesn’t occur, to getting a say in how Cobb’s Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax is spent, Ham would like for Vinings to have a voice.
“We just want to make sure that we’re taking care of the local issues with local people,” Ham said.
However, he maintained that Vinings entire approach to cityhood is “hinged upon” not increasing taxes for residents, and that if the Vinings feasibility study reveals it’s impossible to do so, he may not be in favor of cityhood past that.
In East Cobb’s case, the process for a new feasibility study is being finalized, and Chapin anticipates getting preliminary results in October. The study — set to be conducted by Georgia State University — typically costs around $30,000 and will be funded entirely by donations, as was the case with the last feasibility study conducted in 2018.
Amidst all the cityhood talk, Cupid doesn’t want the benefits of being part of Cobb County to go unacknowledged. Any service a city provides, the county can provide for a better rate because of economies of scale, Cupid said, and cityhood supporters might do well in considering splitting costs with the almost 800,000 residents of Cobb County as opposed to the drastically fewer residents in their proposed city.
This is the argument made by cityhood adversaries in the East Cobb Alliance. The alliance has likened East Cobb’s cityhood to the shark from Jaws 2, and emphasized that the services East Cobb would provide are “all being provided by Cobb County for a low price.” East Cobb Alliance members couldn’t be reached for further comment.
Regardless of residents’ opinions on cityhood, Cupid wants to ensure conversations surrounding the topic are well-informed.
“You won’t ever see me fighting anybody publicly about being a city,” Cupid said. “You will hear me educating residents about the impact that this can have on how we are paying for local government, and you will start hearing me talk about how we need to do a better job serving as a county government.”