Bill gives counties power to curb annexations by cities

LAWRENCEVILLE - Georgia counties would gain the right to stop some annexations of unincorporated land by cities under legislation introduced for the upcoming General Assembly session.

The bill, prefiled in the House last week by freshman Rep. Douglas Holt, R-Social Circle, would prohibit cities from annexing areas receiving county services - including water, sewers, police and fire protection - without the county's approval.

The measure also would cover situations where counties are planning to extend services to unincorporated areas targeted for annexation or have brought those areas under the county's zoning regulations.

The General Assembly made major changes in the law governing annexations during the 2004 session allowing counties to object to annexation proposals that involve rezoning requests.

By filing an objection, a county can delay a rezoning by up to 150 days. That allows time for the city and county to work out their differences or have the dispute argued before a mediator or, failing that, an independent review board.

But in the end, the recommendations of neither a mediator nor a board are binding on the city.

"There's nothing in the law giving counties any say whatever," said Clint Mueller, legislative director of the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, which supports Holt's bill.

Holt said he has no problem with annexations when cities absorb adjacent areas that have become natural extensions because of prevailing growth patterns.

But he said cities should not be allowed to grab unincorporated areas that are not natural fits but have become valuable as sources of tax revenue.

"There are towns that have annexed in a gerrymandered fashion to get desirable parcels tax wise," he said. "I don't think that's what the power of annexation is supposed to be for."

Mueller said the county commissioners association also is concerned about developers seeking to have cities annex their properties so they could build with greater density than would have been permitted if their land had remained unincorporated.

Earlier this year, Gwinnett County officials raised concerns that an annexation and rezoning filed by Dacula would allow overly intense development.

"We're hearing about it all over ... usually where growth pressures are occurring, where there's a lot of development," Mueller said.

But Amy Henderson, spokeswoman for the Georgia Municipal Association, said annexations are not cropping up willy-nilly. She said cities carefully weigh annexation requests, balancing the increased tax revenue with the additional costs of providing services.

"They don't rubber stamp every annexation request," she said.

Henderson, whose organization opposes Holt's bill, said property owners tend to request annexation in connection with rezoning requests because city governments generally move faster than their county counterparts.

A Gwinnett County developer cited the county's lengthy rezoning process as a factor in a failed attempt several years ago by Doraville to annex land along Buford Highway in Gwinnett.

"(Property owners are) looking for a more responsive government," Henderson said.