A new city in Henry?

By Michael Davis and Clay Wilson

Concern over whether some residents in northern Henry County are represented as well as they could be has spurred recent discussion about whether to incorporate a new city.

In recent weeks, community leaders in the Ellenwood/Fairview area have given serious consideration to incorporating a fifth city to leverage control over local spending.

Ellenwood and Fairview are in Henry County's Fifth Commission District, the only district without an incorporated city.

The Rev. Daniel Edwards, president of the Henry County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said there has been discussion over which to incorporate: Ellenwood or Fairview. He said, however, that he feels incorporating Fairview would be more feasible, since parts of Ellenwood lie in DeKalb and Clayton counties.

According to Edwards, the local NAACP has been discussing the incorporation for about a year.

About two months ago, however, branch officials stepped up their inquiries and approached attorneys with the issue.

"We felt that if we were an incorporated city, we wouldn't have some of the problems we're having now and some of the problems we're going to have in the future," he said.

But some officials and residents worry that incorporation could create new problems, since cities are required to provide certain services to residents, such as police and fire protection – or to arrange for the county to provide them.

"I am not in support of it today until I can see the cost of it," said Dawn Davis, a Fairview-area resident and Henry County Municipal Planning Commission member.

She said the discussion began when the first Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax was up for renewal and some Fifth District residents felt they would only get their fair share of the money if they were in a city.

Henry County divides a portion of SPLOST money among each of the four incorporated cities. But, "to get (SPLOST revenue) is not necessarily going to cover the cost of incorporating a city," Davis said.

District V Commissioner Lee Holman said he heard rumblings about incorporation while campaigning in 2002. "I don't want to take sides on this quite yet," he said Wednesday.

"If it's justifiable to incorporate, I'll support it. If it's not justifiable I will not support it," he said.

He said he would like to spend more money in the Fairview area if he could get the votes needed from the rest of the commission. "The point is, we, the governing authority, the BOC, have the authority to allocate more up there. We don't need to incorporate to do that," he said.

Edwards and other Fifth District residents are specifically concerned about the location of a library in the district.

Although the county commission several years ago allocated SPLOST money for a library, one has never been built. Some community leaders charge that the current commission wrongfully diverted funds for the library for other purposes.

"Because we're unincorporated, those tax dollars are going to be taken away and spent somewhere else," Edwards said.

Holman strongly contends that money was never specifically allocated for the library.

Besides approaching attorneys, the NAACP has taken the incorporation proposal to state legislators, since the General Assembly would have to take the action.

"We've gotten some support at the state level," Edwards said.

The NAACP also went to legislative candidates asking for their support for incorporation if they are elected. Edwards said the group asked that the candidates keep the matter quiet until it proceeded further.

However, at a NAACP-sponsored political forum Tuesday, state Senate candidate Shirley Cummings-Reams asked county commission candidates if they would favor the proposal.

"You kind of let the cat out of the bag," Edwards said to Reams in mild reproof.

Most of the candidates present said they would support incorporation, if that is what area residents want.

Edwards said the NAACP's next step is to take the issue to Fifth District residents with community meetings and other educational efforts.

He said that while he knows there will be some opposition, "I'm confident that the community will rally around it."