Four proposed new cities in Cobb County are being promoted as offering only a few of the services cities traditionally offer, but their charters would allow for more services to be added eventually.
Voters in the proposed East Cobb, Lost Mountain and Vinings areas will decide May 24 if they want their area to become a city. Mableton voters will vote Nov. 8.
Feasibility studies were conducted for each proposed city to estimate the cost of providing basic services. But the laws that set the dates of the referendums would also serve as the charters for the cities should they pass, and include provisions for expanding services.
That poses a challenge for the county as it considers how and when to transfer services to any new city, said Cobb County Commission Chair Lisa Cupid.
“Our staff sees some gaps” in the planning, said Cupid.
The feasibility studies were designed to create potential budgets for services that cityhood committee members decided their city needed to offer. The charters list all of the services included in the studies, but those for Mableton and Vinings go far beyond that, listing many that could be offered at some point in the future.
The studies for those two cities included parks and recreation, zoning and planning and code enforcement, for instance. But their charters would allow them to add police and fire services, garbage pick-up, sewer systems and, for Mableton, a city waterworks and bus service.
The East Cobb and Lost Mountain charters offer a shorter list of services, and would require voters to approve any additional services through a referendum vote. With Mableton and Vinings, any services not listed in the charter could be added by the ordinance without a referendum.
County officials say it’s unclear which services each city would offer initially and how those services will be provided.
“A lot of the services that were mentioned were just general, but we have some questions,” said Randy Crider, Cobb County’s public safety director. He said his department needed to “know what’s going to be expected of us.”
East Cobb, for example, likely would provide police and fire services, but it’s unclear how long it would take the newly elected leaders to get those services up and running.
Former state Rep. Matt Dollar, a Republican from East Cobb who sponsored that area’s charter bill, said that is a question for the incoming city council and mayor.
“No one is elected yet and able to speak on behalf or make decisions for the proposed city,” he said.
The topic of mutual aid agreements between the Cobb County fire service and the city of East Cobb was brought up during the Cobb Board of Commissioners special work session earlier this year, with Cobb fire officials saying the topic was not comprehensively covered in the feasibility study.
While the county is doing the best it can to prepare for a smooth transition of services, “it’s hard to really suppose what that transition will look like,” Cupid said in an interview.
But it is clear that potential new city residents won’t see an immediate roll-over of services.
If the cities are approved by voters, city leaders would be elected later. Then, county officials could begin meeting with them and negotiating how to coordinate the transition of county-run services over to the new cities, Cupid said. After that, those services will be phased in over time, she added.
“We’re going to do our best to make sure that we maintain our brand of being a well-run county and working well with all of our cities,” Cupid said.
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