A bill now in the state Legislature might not immediately affect Columbia County's two cities, but it has already caused some disagreement between city and county leaders.
The issue arose Tuesday night as the Columbia County Commission voted unanimously to support the Fair Annexation Act, which is pending in the Georgia House and could limit annexation by cities in areas where certain county services are already provided, including water lines, police and fire protection, sewer and garbage.
"I am disappointed that it went 5-0,'' Harlem Mayor Scott Dean said. "I think I'm going to have a called council meeting to have the council vote to put together an opinion against it, that bill, so we can send it to the delegation so they know our feelings against that House bill.''
Dean and Grovetown Mayor Dennis Trudeau said that although the proposed bill won't affect areas immediately surrounding city limits of Harlem or Grovetown, it might affect the cities in the future.
"Right now, we have not annexed into any county-owned services whatsoever,'' Trudeau said. "All of the annexation we've done so far has been outside any county installations of water or sewer lines or anything like that.''
Dean added that the bill might affect annexation for the county's two cities "down the road ... They (the county) want control over any annexation. They want to be able to turn down all of it.''
The county commission's 5-0 vote in favor of House Bill 962 comes in light of Columbia County looking to pursue the idea of incorporating the Evans-Martinez area and then consolidating it with the county government. Commission Chairman Ron Cross said the bill's introduction is unrelated to that effort. Officials for Columbia County's two cities, Harlem and Grovetown, have said in the past that consolidation would hurt their ability for growth by cutting off annexation possibilities.
Commissioner Lee Anderson, who represents a large portion of the county's rural areas including the two cities, has said he would be against consolidation if it hurt Harlem or Grovetown's ability to grow. That said, Anderson voted along with other commissioners Tuesday night to support the annexation bill pending in the legislature, causing some city officials to question the vote.
"I'm a little surprised at him voting that way,'' Trudeau said. "I didn't think he would vote that way, but apparently he had his mind made up. I really don't understand why he did, though, knowing the situation with the two cities.''
"I am disappointed,'' he said. "But maybe he's got a reason, I don't know. I hope so.''
On Wednesday, Anderson said he voted in support of the Fair Annexation Act because it still allows cities to annex land where counties don't already provide certain services.
As a result of the bill, he said, "You can't just go out there and annex bare land and not have something extra to offer the people.
"If the county is already offering it, then they wouldn't be in any better shape.''
Anderson said he simply wants to make sure residents get the best service possible, adding that under the proposed annexation bill the county would have to offer better services in an area to keep the cities from annexing it.
"If it was to do completely away with annexing, then yeah, I'd have a problem with it,'' Anderson said of the bill. "But I'm for it as long as it will improve whatever that landowner has now.''
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Doug Holt, R-District 112, already has had a summary pre-filed in December.
Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, who also serves Harlem as its city attorney and is the state House Majority Whip, said on Wednesday that he had not seen the bill or heard how it might fare in the legislature.
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