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County statement on service delivery negotiations with cities

round table discussion in a meeting room
April 15, 2024

A recently published article addressed the ongoing negotiations between Cobb County and six cities* inside the county to form a Service Delivery Strategy (SDS). This post clarifies issues surrounding the information in the article and brings our residents up to speed on what these negotiations mean.

What is going on?

The state requires counties and cities to agree on an SDS every ten years.** The SDS agreement requires a series of forms to be submitted to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. This agreement outlines all the local governments' services to ensure taxpayers are not being taxed twice for the same service or services they do not receive.

It is a complicated procedure. For instance, if the county provides a service inside a city that the city also provides (for example, parks), this “higher level of service” is not considered a service duplication by the SDS law.*** Additionally, local government services provided primarily to benefit the unincorporated area must be funded by unincorporated sourced revenues. Unincorporated revenues must also finance the county's share of jointly funded services. 

What has been happening?

The county and cities have operated under a service delivery agreement since 2004.  It is due to expire on October 31, 2024.

The two sides have been negotiating since March 30, 2023, with both agreeing in November 2023 to hire a law firm (Balli Law) to assist with the process.  The county agrees with the cities’ assertion that “it is all about (making) sure we don’t double tax citizens for the same services,” whether they reside in a city or unincorporated Cobb County.  The county hopes that an agreement that meets this and all of the state-required components and criteria can be reached.

What is the disagreement?

In 2022, the county hired a consultant to review its services and funding to ensure that city taxpayers were not subsidizing unincorporated services (i.e., the county services not available to city residents) and that unincorporated taxpayers were not paying city governments for city services.   The report showed that revenues generated in the unincorporated area (i.e., insurance premium tax, user fees, etc.) sufficiently funded unincorporated area services (i.e., Community Development and Police), meaning that city taxpayers were not paying for unincorporated area services (i.e., there is no double taxation). 

The findings of that report were shared with the cities in March 2023; however, they are characterizing this report as the county’s “proposal.” That is not the case. The county offered to extend the current agreement since adding Mableton as a city will require a renegotiation of the SDS in June 2025.

The county can only submit a proposal once the cities complete the state-mandated list of services they provide. The cities promised to complete that list earlier this year but still need to do so. The cities have proposed that the county pay them substantially more money. That proposal came by modifying a Georgia Municipal Association calculation to determine different millage rates for unincorporated and city taxpayers. The GMA calculation is not designed to calculate a cash payout from taxes collected by the county from all county taxpayers to each of the cities.

Local governments may enter into intergovernmental agreements (IGA) with each other for “joint services, for the provision of services, or for the joint or separate use of facilities or equipment…”****  However, the subject of the IGA must be for services.  Any exchange of funds is to pay for those services.  A simple donation of county taxpayer funds (paid by residents of the cities and unincorporated areas) to provide extra money to cities in an SDS is not fair to the taxpayers and is improper.

What is next?

The county desires an agreement that complies with Georgia law by the end of August so the state Department of Community Affairs has time to review it before the October 31, 2024 deadline. In a recent news article, the cities mentioned that it may be necessary to hire a mediator; however, the county has not received this request.

If the county and cities do not reach an agreement by the deadline, they could face sanctions from the state, which would impact their ability to serve their residents.  

The review by the county’s consultant shows that the county may need to implement a special services district(s) that would divide the county’s general fund into different funds. This would carve out the cities so their taxpayers would not be taxed for services available only to those in the unincorporated area (e.g., the Police Department and Community Development). Service Districts are common in many counties, and Cobb County already does this with its Fire Fund.

Agreeing to give the cities more county taxpayer dollars would burden ALL county taxpayers and would not solve issues the Service Delivery Strategy process is designed to address. 



*The six cities include the Cities of Acworth, Austell, Kennesaw, Marietta, Powder Springs, and Smyrna.  The City of Mableton is exempt from the SDS procedure until the conclusion of its transition period. O.C.G.A. § 36-35-8(e)(1).

** See, O.C.G.A. § 36-70-20 et seq.

*** “When a municipality provides a service at a higher level than the base level of service provided throughout the geographic area of the county by the county, such service shall not be considered a duplication of the county service…” O.C.G.A. § 36-70-24(1).

**** Ga. Const. Art. IX, Sec. III, Para. I(a).