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Georgia Senate advances bill to create new Mulberry city

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(The Center Square) — The Georgia Senate passed a bill that could create a Mulberry city in northeastern Gwinnett County should voters give the proposal a thumbs up.

Lawmakers passed Senate Bill 333 last week, sending it to the state House for consideration. If passed and signed into law, it would put the issue on the spring primary ballot.

“Our constituents are now one step closer to gaining local control over the future of our community without having to pay city property taxes,” House Majority Leader Chuck Efstration, R-Auburn, said in a statement.

In a statement, state Sen. Clint Dixon, R-Gwinnett, said creating a city “will provide for the proper representation and cityhood that my constituents deserve.”

The proposed city, the 17th in Gwinnett County, would cover roughly 25.9 square miles and have about 41,000 residents. Efstration’s office retained Atlanta-based KB Advisory Group to analyze the new city’s potential fiscal feasibility and found that the city would be “financially feasible” without implementing a city property tax.

However, during last week’s debate, state Sen. Nikki Merritt, D-Grayson, said the measure, driven by zoning concerns and an influx of apartments, was rushed and circumvented the local legislative delegation.

“I’m not really sure all of those residents in Mulberry fully understand the referendum we’re presenting here and what the repercussions will be,” Merritt said during the debate.

The lawmaker pointed to a resolution the Gwinnett County Commission passed asking state lawmakers to “carefully consider” the bill’s impact before voting on it. In a fact sheet, county officials said they would need “to increase taxes, increase other service fees, or reduce service levels for unincorporated residents” to make up for a projected $9.1 million annual revenue loss if the Mulberry proposal advances.

“Creating a new city will not automatically resolve these issues,” Merritt added. “The lack of public town halls or opportunities for comment since the release of the feasibility study and the charter raises questions about the transparency in the decision-making process and … contradicts the call for less government and bureaucracy from Republican colleagues. So, we’re going to build more government.”