A bill that would have established a mediation process for dealing with Gainesville’s next round of “island” annexations appears to be dead in the Georgia General Assembly.
The bill failed to make it out of a Senate committee in time for passage before the last day of the session this Thursday.
An island is a property in unincorporated Hall County that is encircled by property within the Gainesville city limits. The city annexed 115 of these properties, encompassing mostly commercial businesses, last July, but left more than 400 residential areas to be served by the county.
Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, confirmed to The Times that the bill, after making it out of the House, would have to wait a year before passing the Senate.
County officials, who supported the bill, said the annexations had created a confusing situation where duplicate services are being provided because, for example, one side of a street is served by the city, while the other is served by the county.
Moreover, county officials felt left out of the annexation process, and objected to the way they believe Gainesville “cherry-picked” properties with the highest tax revenue value and lowest need for services. They would have preferred the city annex the residential properties, as well.
Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan said the annexations were about cleaning up the city’s boundaries, establishing uniform zoning standards along gateway and commercial corridors, and making it easier to ensure local services are provided.
“It wasn’t for tax money,” he said, adding that the city’s coffers only grew about $50,000 as a result of the annexations.
The Gainesville City Council received a report on the estimated financial impact of annexing the remaining residential lands, costs that officials say are unsustainable for police, fire, public utilities and other departments.
“We realized it was going to be rather expensive to do this,” Dunagan said.
Sponsors of the state bill had originally sought binding arbitration when and if the city did proceed with more annexations. But that language was gutted in favor of a mediation process.
“I’m just glad the bill died,” Gainesville Councilman George Wangemann said. “Certainly, we don’t need any more laws.”
The bill’s apparent failure, however, has only spurred more condemnation from county officials. The Georgia Municipal Association opposed the bill, and worked hard to see its defeat.
“I never expected it to” pass, said Commissioner Scott Gibbs. “Gainesville rallied the troops. They have a better lobbying arm. They’re willing to spend whatever it takes to get it done.”
Commissioner Craig Lutz said he hoped the bill would be “run up the flagpole” again next year.
“I’m disappointed,” he added. “But I understand these things are a process.”