New law makes annexation get a little harder for cities
Last week, it got a little bit more difficult for Georgia cities to annex unincorporated county land as Governor Sonny Perdue signed House Bill 2, legislation sponsored by local Georgia District 112 Representative Doug Holt.
Republican Holt (who represents all of Morgan County, with the exception of the Bostwick and Apalachee precincts), said the bill will allow county residents to help place binding resolutions, if needed, on cities attempting to annex land.
â€œBasically, [this bill] deals with dispute resolution when there is an annexation by a municipality,â€? said Holt in a telephone interview on Tuesday.
The genesis of House Bill 2 is in the annexation several years ago of some 1,150 acres of Newton County land by the City of Social Circle. Social Circle, which is in Walton County, faced significant objections from unincorporated residents, and subsequently went through several non-binding mediation exercises. Ultimately, however, current law placed few stumbling blocks in the way of incorporation.
â€œTheyâ€¦very aggressively used the power of annexation and made a lot of people very angry,â€? said Holt of the Social Circle expansion. â€œThat got east Newton County pretty cranked up.â€?
Holt presented a similar bill to curb municipal powers of annexation during the 2006 Georgia legislative session, but that bill failed to gain traction. This year, more wide-spread support for such a bill among citizens helped a new bill move through both houses.
â€œEssentially, GMA (Georgia Municipal Association) came to the table at negotiated in good faith with the ACCG (Association of County Commissioners of Georgia),â€? said Holt. â€œThe elected officials, rather than the staff members of those two organizations, were able to hammer out an initial agreement, and then we had something on which to build legislation,â€? said Holt.
Morgan County Board of Commissioners Chairman Mack Bohlen declined to comment on the bill until he had read the entire document, as did County Manager Michael Lamar. â€œ[But] I think anything that helps counties protect the rights of unincorporated citizens is a good thing,â€? said Lamar.
Holt says that the current bill is not as strong as he would have liked, requiring as it does for potential zoning conditions placed on newly-annexed land to stay in place for only a year.
â€œItâ€™s still a very significant departure from the current process,â€? said Holt. The new law may at least slow down land speculators who purchase land, push annexations through a municipality, then sell the land for an elevated price.
â€œThose were the types of situations that were causing the biggest outcry,â€? said Holt. â€œI am not opposed to people speculating in landâ€¦[but] people were speculating and expecting to use law and government to increase and speed up their profit, and thatâ€™s what I donâ€™t feel is right. This new legislation will at least put a damper on that process,â€? said Holt.