Annexation and Cityhood FAQ

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt March 2, 2015
DeKalb County Georgia. Source: Google Maps.

DeKalb County Georgia. Source: Google Maps.

The state Legislature could soon be considering bills that would allow voters to decide whether to create new cities in DeKalb County.

There’s also a possibility that the Legislature could be taking up annexation bills on behalf of Decatur and Avondale Estates.

But what does all of this actually mean, anyway? How is a new city formed? What is annexation? How could it affect you?

In an effort to distill the process into something that’s easy to understand, Decaturish has compiled this FAQ on cityhood and annexation. We’ve run it by groups working both for and against new cities and annexation. None of the groups we showed it to raised any objections to our description of the current processes at work. We acknowledge we are not experts on parliamentary procedure or state laws.  If you see something here that needs to be revised or clarified, let us know by emailing us at

Editor’s note: If you choose to share this FAQ with other people, please credit us, summarize the FAQ and link back to this post. Thank you. 

Annexation and Cityhood FAQ

What is annexation? Annexation is the expansion of the boundaries of an existing city to include currently unincorporated territory.

What does unincorporated mean? Anything that is not currently in a city is considered unincorporated. Think Medlock Park, Scottdale, etc.

What is cityhood? Cityhood is a catch all for any proposal to create a new city from unincorporated territory.

How is a new city formed? Becoming a city is a complicated process, and the rules have been known to change. But the process generally works like this.

1) A group forms to propose and promote a city. Usually, that group obtains what’s known as a Fiscal Feasibility Study. Quite simply, this study means that a city will take in enough tax money to provide government services to residents. If a city is found to not be financially viable, it usually means it can’t advance in the state legislature. Two of the current cityhood proposals –Greenhaven and Stonecrest – have been deemed financially viable. The other two – LaVista Hills and Tucker – were financially viable prior to recent changes to the aps of each city. It is expected that an updated feasibility study will show they are still viable.

2) A legislator – usually from the state House – introduces a bill. The cityhood bills are introduced as general legislation.

What is general legislation? Any legislation that is introduced that does not require the approval of a majority of a legislative delegation. If a cityhood bill was local legislation, it would require the consent of nine of DeKalb’s 16 House delegation members and four of seven DeKalb County Senators to move forward. Annexation bills are local legislation.

Why are the new city bills being introduced as general legislation and annexation bills being introduced as local legislation? Annexation has always been a local issue. But new cities have been vehemently opposed by Democrats that control the delegations of some Atlanta counties. To get around this, when the Republicans took control of the Legislature they changed the rules so that city legislation could be general legislation. This is why Sandy Springs finally formed in 2005 after decades of trying to become a city. But annexation has remained local legislation.

3) A cityhood bill has to pass one chamber by March 13, the legislative Crossover Day. This is important. If the bill doesn’t pass either the house or the senate, it is dead. Important side note: Annexation bills are not bound by the crossover deadline because they are local legislation.

4) Both chambers must approve the cityhood bill with will include a date for a vote, called a referendum.

5) The governor must sign the bill.

6) The referendum must be approved by the voters.

How does annexation occur? There are actually several legal methods of annexing unincorporated property, but there is only one we need to worry about for this discussion: annexation by legislative action. The steps are similar to the creation of a city.

1) A city’s elected leaders request that the city’s legislator introduce a bill on the city’s behalf that would allow for an annexation referendum. Decatur and Avondale Estates have already done this.

2) The legislator introduces the bill as local legislation.

What is local legislation? Local legislation requires the consent of nine of DeKalb’s 16 House delegation members and four of seven DeKalb County Senators to move forward. Annexation bills are local legislation. As a practical matter, most legislators defer the reps in the area affected by the legislation, but not always.

3) The bill passes both chambers. Because this bill is local legislation, it is not bound by the crossover day restriction that affects general legislation, meaning annexation bills can be introduced after a cityhood bill fails because it wasn’t approved by crossover day. The bill sets the date for a referendum.

4) The governor signs the bill.

5) Voters in the area to-be annexed must approve the annexation in a referendum. This is a sticking point for many people, since current city residents do not get the opportunity to vote. There is a bill under consideration that could change this, however …

What are the current cityhood movements?

What are the current annexation proposals that Decaturish is following?

Who are the main groups that are opposed to annexation and cityhood?

Why is there a push to create new cities and expand older cities in DeKalb County?

There are two main reasons:

  • DeKalb County government seen as too big for the population it serves. Cities are seen as a way to bring government closer to the people they serve. A city council person represents fewer people than a county commissioner, and smaller government is believed to be more responsive to the needs of the people it serves.
  • DeKalb County is a mess. The county’s schools and its government has been mired in scandal for years. CEO Burrell Ellis was indicted, which ended in a mistrial. He is awaiting a retrial. Former commissioner Elaine Boyer resigned after being indicted for misusing her county-issued debit card. The School system nearly lost its accreditation and most of its members were removed by Gov. Nathan Deal. Even with an interim CEO, almost every other month there is a new story involving shenanigans in county government. It’s widely believed that more indictments are forthcoming against county officials.

Those sound like good reasons to form or join a city. Why are some groups opposed to it?

There are a few arguments against it:

  • The process is confusing. It takes 1,400 words’ worth of explanation just to make it “easy” to understand. The average voter is going to have a difficult time understanding and processing this information in order to make an informed decision. Some of the opposition groups claim that the process is deliberately confusing and that the people behind these initiatives aren’t being transparent in their actions.
  • Smaller government doesn’t necessarily mean better government. Opposition groups say that smaller governments are just as susceptible to corruption as larger governments.
  • Cityhood groups say they are redirecting tax dollars that would go to the county toward better uses. While some new cities cap property taxes in their charter, new cities still have the authority to impose new fees on residents.
  • Schools would suffer. This is a major sticking point with the proposal being put forward by Together In Atlanta. If it is successful, Briar Vista and Fernbank Elementary Schools would join Atlanta public schools, leaving the DeKalb County system. The TIA map also includes Druid Hills High. That means other schools that feed into Druid Hills High, like Druid Hills Middle and Avondale Estates Elementary School, would be zoned to other high schools. It’s important to note: None of the new cities under consideration would have their own school systems. They would all be under DeKalb County Schools. The only way to leave DeKalb County Schools would be by annexing into Decatur or Atlanta, both of which already have school systems.

If DeKalb County is the main driver of this discussion, why not simply reform DeKalb? That’s being pursued this year as well, and there are several bills that are under consideration that are intended to clean up county government. However, that is considered a parallel process to cityhood and annexation, not an alternative.

More: Here is our map of the current annexation and cityhood maps, including overlapping plans for annexation and cityhood. With cityhood bills on the way, it’s likely these maps will change in the next two weeks. 

About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of

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  • Meghan

    You did a good job explaining why new cities want to form. I think an additional line or two about annexation by existing cities is also justified. For example, Decatur needs more commercial property. A Decatur annexation will also have an effect on both McLendon and Laurel Ridge Elementary schools – albeit a smaller effect than if Briar Vista, Fernbank, and DHHS went to Atlanta. The key difference between the two annexation proposals is that one is actually being driven by an existing city in order to annex the land before a new city snaps it up (Decatur), and the other is a group of citizens in an unincorporated area approaching an existing city, asking to join (TiA). I think the distinction between how they came about is worth noting.

    All in all, a great FAQ and summary of what is going on!

  • DHH

    Is there anything out there on deannexation? Specifically, if an unincorporated area gets put against its wishes into a city, what is the bar for removing itself from that city? Would it be the 60% method? I’m thinking about Laurel Ridge getting scooped up into La Vista. If 60% of the Laurel Ridge folks decide that they like it better the way it is, do they need La Vista’s permission, or is a simple petition good enough?

    • notapunk

      It’s the 100% method for deannexation.

      • DHH

        Thanks. It appears much harder to get out than get in, unless you are right on the boundary line to begin with.

        • Peavine Observer

          Yes, it is nearly impossible. Years ago Buckhead tried to separate from Atlanta, but it wasn’t successful.

  • Hugh Bean

    Ah the passive voice. “However, that is considered a parallel process to cityhood and annexation, not an alternative.” Considered by whom? People who are discounting the prospect of actually cooperating with their neighbors to heal what’s wrong with our government and community?

    Fixing the county is the ONLY alternative to cityhood and annexation. And, what’s more, it’s the ethical and rational alternative.

  • Jason

    None of the proposals include Medlock Park and it seems oddly unjust because all of the businesses Medlock residents frequent are being devoured for tax revenues, ensuring that Medlock Park residents are helping pay for schools they cannot attend and have to send their own kids to far away DeKalb county middle and high schools. It feels a little like taxation without representation. I can only see DeKalb county schools and students suffering from the loss of revenue.

  • Jason

    None of the proposals include Medlock Park and it seems oddly unjust because all of the businesses Medlock residents frequent are being devoured for tax revenues, ensuring that Medlock Park residents are helping pay for schools they cannot attend and have to send their own kids to far away DeKalb county middle and high schools. It feels a little like taxation without representation. It looks screwy on a map of proposed cities and annexations too.

  • Dixie Firefly

    Although the City of Decatur wants more commercial property, the annexation plan clearly illustrates the poor planning by the City of Decatur in that it lacks a balanced ratio of residential to commercial properties. The City of Decatur has also planned poorly for the funding of its schools, even with some of the highest taxes in the state of Georgia. The City of Decatur plans to build two schools in the north portion of the annexed areas and take residential homes by eminent domain. So, in essence, the City wants to take the land, raise taxes, and make the newly annexed citizens homeless. The property value increases that they claim would happen is uncertain at best, and could be considered as a wash after paying in much higher taxes over a period of years. The City would also need to build a new fire department to the north annexed areas to keep their current fire department rating. It seems the annexation plans are all to benefit the City of Decatur, and do nothing for the newly annexed areas. They plan to increase the population from around 20,000 to 25,000 people and have not pledged to hire any additional police. I think the information provided about annexation at the City of Decatur’s website should state that they plan to take residential land, (not valuable commercial property) for new schools located in the newly annexed areas by eminent domain. I think they should also make the information available about the overcrowding in their schools and what could happen in terms of year round school or split shifts. I think they should also provide information about a possible tax increase for the funding of the schools. And I think they should address what their plans are the increase their fire and police departments in order to serve the huge newly annexed areas.

  • Invisible Man


    Residents are being told that we will have to pay more taxes if we do not form a city. I think citizens would be better served if the CCCSD would file a court case against the county and the other cities about the tax liabilities and pension obligations that are not being shared by all the property owners of the county. The CCCSD wants the citizens of South DeKalb to believe that creating the city will create economic development.

    We do not know if the neighborhood units or community leaders are in support of the cityhood concept. Do they want to be in a smaller city or to remain a part of the county?

    How can a new city such as the city of Dunwoody or Brookhaven not be equally responsible for pension and bonds that were already obligated prior to their cityhood makes no sense.

    It would be equally appropriate if our political leaders ask state legislators to amend the annexations and consolidation laws to prohibit hostile takeovers without the consent of the governed. Some states have laws that require the cities to make up for the lost revenues of the county.

    It seems that shotgun cities are appearing all over DeKalb County. Who will pay the county bills once all the local communities become cities? Will the county file bankruptcy and then North DeKalb merge with Milton?

    Concerned Citizens Against Cityhood in South DeKalb (CCACSD would suggest that the state Legislature stop this cityhood movement in the county. The county needs leadership on this issue. Citizens should not remain silent on this issue. We need leadership from the state Legislature.

  • Invisible Man


    The Carl Vinson Institute report was a feasibility study and it only evaluated the financial viability of the proposed new city. The report was based on minimum city services: Parks and recreation, zoning, and code enforcement. The report did not include and qualitative data or resident interviews. The study did not use similar city demographics to compare costs, and the report did not consider the impact of the new city impact on the DeKalb County as a government. The report does not validate the necessity or efficacy of forming a new city. The report did not consider the views of the residents of the affected area.

    There is no information on time table for adding other services like police to the proposed new city services. Need more information on the process to amend the charter to add other services, and how long will it take to amend the charter. .

    There is no information on how each of the communities within the boundary of the new proposed city will have to choose either to become part of the new city or opt out and remain unincorporated. It appears that the CCCSD has already included all the unincorporated communities in south DeKalb in its new city. Information is needed in regards to the referendum process and how and when each community will have the opportunity to vote rather to be part of the new city or opt out. The way the CCCSD has conducted the cityhood process and drawn up the map it assumes that all the communities and neighborhoods within the borders want to be in the new city.

  • Ed Williams

    DeKalb Cityhood Annexation Gentrification Black Belt Self-Determination

    “Leaders must go beyond
    bringing white people back to the city to reverse white flight, because resegregation is not the answer. The answer is
    not black and white. Segregation of race and class kills a region’s economy.
    For instance, a study called “The Equality of Opportunity Project” found that
    areas with greater mobility tend to have five characteristics: less
    segregation, less income inequality, better schools, greater social capital,
    and more stable families.”

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