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Study finds “city-lite” concepts like Tucker unconstitutional

by Brent Barron
December 31, 2015
You might not want to be involved, but if you live in Tucker...
you already are.   Better start paying attention now rather than
regret the choices other voters might make for you!
A senate committee released the findings from their study last month and found that “city-lite” models, such as with the newly formed city of Tucker, contain unconstitutional provisions.

The Senate Annexation, Deannexation and Incorporation Study Committee was called for by Senator Elena Parent of District 42 last summer with appointments to the committee made by Lt. Governor Casey Cagle.

“I thought it was time to take a look at the formal process or lack-thereof of the formation of these cities to see if there were ways to make the process more uniform, transparent and fair,” Parent said. “I served as chair and we heard some really solid input and testimony from a variety of groups and I am hopeful some of the recommendations we made will move ahead and be made into law.”

The city-lite concept in question allows for a limited number of services to be provided compared to the larger number provided by traditional cities.

In the case of Tucker, citizens decided on three basic service areas, with all others remaining in county control. This model dictates that additional services cannot be added without citizens voting on them.

The Dec. 16 report stated that “the city-lite concept appears to be unconstitutional because the process of requiring voter approval before a city may provide a specific service is a limitation on the powers of the city by a local law, which would run afoul of the Supremacy Powers Clause.”

Because of this, the study recommends prohibiting the city-lite concept from being included in future municipal incorporation proposals.

“Additionally, the city-lite provisions should be closely reviewed in the charters of Peachtree Corners, Tucker and in any pending incorporation proposals,” the study stated.

The study found that often the services which are either shared or divided between cities and counties lead to tension over the sharing and redistribution of revenues.

“Especially harmful to the county are situations in which it must continue to provide the bulk of costly services, yet the revenue used to provide them is now redirected to the new city that provides fewer services,” the report stated.

Though many new cities say taxes will not go up without voter approval, the study found that no approval is legally needed.

Other recommendations include studying an alternative to fully-formed cities; referendum and feasibility study requirements being codified; and a further study of the transfer and compensation of property due to annexations to establish a more uniform and equitable method.

Another recommendation is to change the language in the charters to clarify that cities can increase their tax rate, or millage cap, without voter approval. According to the report there is nothing to stop a city council from altering or removing a millage cap through home rule powers.

“I think it is important for residents of Tucker to note that the legislative council’s opinion is that the city-lite concept would not be constitutional, but I do not think it renders their city unconstitutional,” Parent said.

Those who helped fight for cityhood in Tucker feel differently.

“The charter for Tucker is law, and anyone saying it is unconstitutional is just voicing an opinion,” said Frank Auman*, a volunteer member of the grassroots pro-city group Tucker 2015.

Other members on the committee included Senator John Albers, Senator Charlie Bethel, Senator Frank Ginn and Senator Fran Millar.

Read more: Neighbor Newspapers - Study finds city lite concepts like Tucker unconstitutional

* Neighborhood Newspapers should have noted that this comment was made by  a mayoral candidate who has run for political office in Tucker in the past and lost.  He also is listed as the owner of "Cheatum Chemicals" a company that could stand to benefit if the rules of industry are lightened inside city boundaries.

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