A bill to create the city of Mulberry in northeast Gwinnett County has passed the Georgia State House of Representatives and is now headed to Governor Brian Kemp's desk for final approval.
Senate Bill 333 passed the State Senate last week and was approved in the State House Thursday afternoon by a 101-63 vote. If signed by the governor, it will put an item on the ballot for voters in the area to vote on cityhood in either May or November.
The bill passed through the House Committee on Intragovernmental Coordination Tuesday via a 13-8 vote. That vote, however, came after almost an hour of debate over the city's creation.
District 109 Representative Dewey McClain (D-Lawrenceville), who represents an area of Gwinnett County between Lawrenceville and Lilburn, said the city's creation could have a negative impact on his constituents.
"What I said, and what my folks said, was as long as it didn't affect me, we didn't give a hoot...But after getting what we received from (Gwinnett County Commission Chairwoman Nicole Hendrickson)...it is going to affect the rest of the citizens of Gwinnett County," McClain said during Tuesday's hearing. "My folks are concerned that they don't want to pay for someone else's concerns...Where's (fire service) going to come from? They're still going to get it from Gwinnett. Where's water and sewer going to come from? It's going to come from Gwinnett County."
State Senator Clint Dixon (R-Buford) presented the bill to the committee, saying the effect of the city's creation on the rest of the county would not be as significant as Gwinnett County officials have claimed.
"Not to say (Gwinnett County) wouldn't have to change or go through those service delivery contracts...but as far as a county-wide impact, you're talking about a budget of $2.5 billion. The estimated impact from the county in the feasibility study is $9 million," Dixon said. "If the citizens do choose and vote in favor of cityhood, they would have that negotiation with the county and some of those costs would actually be recouped by the county."
Gwinnett County currently has a service delivery contract with the 16 municipalities within the county borders. An information packet recently issued by the county government said the creation of the city of Mulberry would require that contract to be renegotiated.
In response to additional questions about Mulberry's impact on the rest of the county, Dixon pointed to decisions by the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners that he said sparked interest in the city's creation.
"Quite frankly, if the citizens felt like they were getting represented as they should have, this would not even be an issue," Dixon said. "Unfortunately, you've got commissioners that have not been elected by these people and do not represent these people, and they're imposing their will against the will of these citizens."
In an interview with WDUN before the State Senate vote on the bill, Dixon said Gwinnett County's District 4 Commissioner Matthew Holtkamp had attempted to put a pause on high-density residential projects in the area proposed to become Mulberry, but had been voted down by the other county commissioners.
District 108 Representative Jasmine Clark (D-Lilburn) said, however, that Holtkamp's opposition to increased high-density zonings in the area may not necessarily mean he supports the creation of a new city. She pointed to a recent resolution passed by the board of commissioners urging lawmakers to reconsider the potential impacts of Mulberry's creation.
"I just find the irony is that this bill is actually pre-empting the actual person who was complaining that his voice was being drowned out," Clark said. "He's saying 'other commissioners aren't listening to me,' and then when he tells us he does not want us to go forward with this yet, then we are not listening to him either by letting this bill go forward."
Dixon disputed the claim that Holtkamp opposes the bill, saying Holtkamp had indicated to him verbally that he was neutral towards it.
"I also represent these people, and while I do have great respect for Commissioner Holtkamp, these folks have elected me and I've had a huge outcry from them coming directly to myself and (House Majority Leader Chuck Efstration), needing help and wanting representation in the area, especially dealing with zonings," Dixon said.
Holtkamp issued a statement to AccessWDUN Thursday evening following the bill's passge, clarifying his position on the proposed city:
"Contrary to recent statements attributed to two lawmakers, I am not against the proposed city. My position remains neutral," Holtkamp said. "My priority is to ensure that all Gwinnett residents are well-informed about the legislative process surrounding this proposal. Furthermore, for those in the proposed Mulberry boundaries, I stand ready to provide any and all information requested so that they might make an educated decision in the ballot box."