ATLANTA — The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division, handed Eagles Landing supporters a win on Friday, declining to halt a referendum into cityhood.
The court however, ruled that the city, should it be approved by voters in November, would still have to take on a share of the debt taken on by the city of Stockbridge, debt that was taken on to construct projects such as Stockbridge’s new city hall.
Language in Senate Bill 263, the bill passed that allowed for the Eagles Landing referendum, stated that the city would be proportionally responsible for any intergovernmental agreements in place within that city’s corporate boundaries before the city was incorporated.
“The city of Eagle’s Landing shall be a successor in interest to all intergovernmental agreements which affect the territory contained within the corporate limits of the city which are in existence at the time the city is the created,” reads a part of the bill, which was passed by the Georgia General Assembly and signed by Gov. Nathan Deal.
How that debt would be paid was a major sticking point for Capital One Public Financing, the municipal bonding arm of Capital One, and was the reason for legal action filed by that organization, more so than any interest in keeping Stockbridge whole or seeing a new city of Eagles Landing.
Stockbridge officials were disappointed with the ruling, but officials still think they will prevail in the constitutional challenge in Georgia Supreme Court.
“In the preliminary injunction federal order, the judge says that if a new city of Eagles Landing is established it will be responsible for its share of Stockbridge’s municipal bond debt,” said Chris Anulewicz, one of Stockbridge’s attorneys. “This would likely require Eagles Landing to impose a property tax to pay its share of Stockbridge’s debt.”
Anulewicz stated that Eagles Landing supporters have broken their promise of creating a city with no property tax.
“It is ironic that the proponents of Eagle’s Landing actually advocated this position with the court when they had previously promised referendum voters that there would be no property tax in Eagle’s Landing,” Anulewicz said. “Those proponents have already broken their biggest promise to the voters before the city of Eagle’s Landing referendum has even taken place.”
According to Michael Williams, another Stockbridge attorney, the amount of debt that Eagles Landing will take on “will be an amount proportionate to the value of the taxable property that is being removed from Stockbridge compared to what remains.”
Meanwhile, Eagles Landing supporters viewed the District Court’s decision as a victory.
Vikki Consiglio, one of the leading forces behind Eagles Landing cityhood, said the fact that Capital One filed a suit concerning the ability to pay the debt owed was surprising.
“It surprised me that Capital One did not realize when they purchased the loan from Wells Fargo in 2017 that legislation had already been introduced for the de-annexation of portions of the city of Stockbridge into the city of Eagles Landing and that they were not aware of the language which would address their concerns,” Consiglio said. “And furthermore it saddens me to think that bond reporting agencies would write articles indicating bond harm for cities across Georgia when clearly the Georgia Legislature had made provisions for these things.”