Atlanta’s richest and whitest neighborhood is one step closer to seceding and becoming its own city

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A move to create a new city out of the wealthiest and whitest areas in Atlanta got a little more traction this week, after being blocked by Georgia legislative leaders last year.

Two bills that would together allow the Buckhead district to secede from the city passed a Georgia Senate committee Monday and could be up for a floor vote as soon as Wednesday.

If approved by both legislative chambers and signed by Governor Brian Kemp, the measures would allow residents of the roughly 24-square-mile (62 square kilometers) Buckhead area to vote in November 2024 on whether to leave Atlanta and form their own city.

While the Buckhead City movement has a powerful backer in Burt Jones, the state’s lieutenant governor and State Senate president, the measures are expected to face resistance in the House. 

Michael Smith, a spokesman for Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, said City Hall “will continue to work with the Senate to put an end to this legislation before it has disastrous consequences.”

Pushed by rural legislators and opposed by Atlanta’s elected officials and business community, the proposed new city would take with it nearly one-fifth of Atlanta’s population and an estimated 38% of its tax revenue. It could affect Atlanta’s credit rating, as well as ratings for cities across Georgia. Moody’s Investors Service said in October it maintained a Aa1 rating on the city’s approximately $650 million outstanding general obligation unlimited tax debt.

Former Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan quashed the effort last year, assigning the secession bill to a committee that was made up entirely of urban Democrats who opposed it. Former House Speaker David Ralston, who died last year, killed it in the House.

The legislation before the General Assembly lays out the proposed new city’s charter, including its ability to regulate everything from live chickens to pawn shops, and what the new city’s council members will be paid, which is roughly what Atlanta council members earn now. It also sets out terms for what would happen to Atlanta’s assets inside the proposed new city’s limits.

The proposal would allow Buckhead City to acquire Atlanta park land within its boundaries for just $100,000 per acre, even though an acre in the neighborhood can command 10 times that amount. Atlanta would also have to either split all assets outside its city limits with the proposed Buckhead City borders or sell them and split the proceeds. That would include an 85-acre plot south of the city now slated to become a controversial police training center nicknamed Cop City by opponents.

Georgia’s legislature has allowed unincorporated areas around Atlanta to vote to form their own cities for nearly two decades. But it has allowed only one vote to leave, a wealthy subdivision inside the small city of Stockbridge south of Atlanta. Subdivision residents rejected secession in 2018.

Although rumblings about a potential Buckhead split have gone on for years, the effort picked up steam last year due to concerns about crime. In the year since the last push failed, crime is down in the police district that includes Buckhead, according to the mayor’s office.

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