Georgia State Representative Betsy Holland recently sat down with us to discuss the pros and cons of Buckhead city hood, and the recent legislation that was introduced to create an independent Buckhead City. She represents a large portion of the Buckhead community, and she is a Buckhead resident.
Rep. Holland is well aware of the key issues that have Buckhead residents looking for solutions. “The motivation I’m hearing around city hood is predominantly law and order concerns. Concerns about, police management, crime, and public safety.” However, she notes that these issues are not limited to Buckhead. “I think other cities across the nation are facing a lot of what we’re facing right now. These overall trends are not just happening in Atlanta. They’re happening in Dallas, they’re happening in DC, they’re happening in Minneapolis.”
There is a lot more to this issue than law enforcement. Rep. Holland says, “Like a lot of people in this community, I am disappointed with the way that Buckhead has been treated for the past few years.” She notes infrastructure and schools as other areas that deserve more attention. “I’m not thrilled with the way that the city of Atlanta has treated this community. That’s a shame, and I’d like to see that change.”
Rep. Holland cites the pandemic as exacerbating the problems within the community. As a business person, she is aware of the challenges of getting back to normal. “You had a lot of services that had to be cut, and I’d like to see us recover from that as quickly as possible.” She believes that keeping the economy growing, making sure the schools are strong, improving the roadways, and making sure police wages are high enough are top priorities.
However, none of these issues make Buckhead City a foregone conclusion for Rep. Holland. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m against the movement to incorporate as a city, but I’m looking at a lot of the legal, fiscal, and logistical issues around incorporating.” She says, “It’s not just about ‘who do I call to fix a pothole’.” Holland wants to make sure that the process would create a more efficient ecosystem to solve the issues in the community, while providing all of the necessary services.
She is also concerned about the impact Buckhead City could have on the City of Atlanta and the metro area. “Buckhead is about a fifth of Atlanta population and, land wise, we’re about 20% of the city, but we’re close to half of that tax digest. If we move that money away from the City of Atlanta, what does that do to Atlanta?” Rep. Holland understands that the strength of the City of Atlanta has a direct effect on the surrounding communities, and it would be counterproductive to help the Buckhead community in a way that negatively impacts Atlanta. “I just want to make sure that local control doesn’t mean there’s a devastating impact just outside the city of Buckhead that can’t be fixed over time.”
She is looking forward to the feasibility study that is slated to begin this summer to provide answers to some of her concerns. Rep. Holland wants to make sure that an independent Buckhead City would work more efficiently than what the community is experiencing as part of the City of Atlanta. The current system could work differently with a different city council people or different leadership in the Atlanta mayor’s office, but Rep. Holland understands that there could be other solutions through city hood, “If you can find efficiencies and you can find a way to do it better than I think that that’s great.” She sees the feasibility study as a key part of the process. She tells us, “If that shows me that we’ll be able to make better improvements, have a stronger police force, and reduce crime with our tax dollars… I just want to see that it’s going to be a good investment for our community. If there’s a way to build efficiencies, that would be a reason to do this.”
Rep. Holland has a vested interest in how Buckhead moves forward as a resident, a business person, and a state representative for the district. She is eager to gather more data, and then determine what she thinks is the best way for the community to thrive. In closing she told us, “I’m voting on things that are in the best interest of Georgia that maybe don’t necessarily always feel like they’re in the best interest of the city of Atlanta or vice versa. There’s a domino effect. It would be irresponsible of me to think solely about how this is going to impact the households in my district. If it’s a domino effect that knocks the legs out from under the biggest city in the state, then you worry that the domino effect would come back and affect our livelihood.”
Various members of BEC have countered these concerns in recent statements that the City of Atlanta would not just be losing tax revenue, but would also gain savings by not having to provide services to Buckhead. Proponents of cityhood believe that a smaller city government will better represent the interests and concerns of the community and point to the success of the young cities of Brookhaven and Sandy Springs as examples of efficient small government.
Meanwhile, the Buckhead Cityhood continues to move forward with a $2500 per couple briefing/fundraiser scheduled for this evening. The funds raised will be used to fund a feasibility study by the University of Georgia that will study the effects that cityhood would have on the City of Atlanta as well as project an operational budget for Buckhead City.