This is something I wrote about “City Services” in 2013 for the Patch online newsletter, and it’s still relevant.
Herman Lorenz, Neighbor
People Talk About "City Services". What Are They? How are They Managed?
Posted Tue, Nov 19, 2013 at 9:15 am ET
There are actually lots of services defined in the Georgia Constitution as "city services". And any of these services may be performed by the County, if there is no city to take care of them. But all of them are the responsibility of cities, within the City borders.
You may have heard that a city has to perform at least three services to be a city. You also may have heard that there are 11 possible city services. That's close, in an end-result sense; but not legally correct. I'll talk more about that in a moment, but here is a list of the services constitutionally defined as the responsibility of Cities in Georgia.
- Police Protection
- Fire Services
- Garbage and Solid Waste Disposal
- Public Health Facilities and Services
- Street Construction and Maintenance
- Parks and Recreational Areas, Programs and Facilities
- Storm Water Collection and Disposal
- Development, Storage, Treatment, Purification and Distribution of Water
- Sewage Collection and Disposal
- Public Housing
- Public Transportation
- Libraries, Archives and Arts and Science Programs and Facilities
- Terminal and Dock Facilities
- Codes, Including Building, Housing, Electrical and Plumbing
- Air Quality Control
- Creation, Modification and Maintenance of Retirement or Pension Plans for Employees
- Planning, Zoning and Community Development
- Electric Utility
- Gas Utility
- Street Lighting
And by the way there are others that relate to specific situations and governmental requirements.
These services are defined as city services. But if there is no city in an area, they fall back to the County to perform them. They are not County services that a City takes; they are City services that a County takes care of only if no City is there.
When people come up with small lists (11 services), it's because they combine services that are really distinct – "fire and police", "water and sewer" (totally unrelated, I hope), "roads and drainage", "utilities", etc. The lists people talk about also typically skip things no one really wants to do – public transportation, utilities, air quality; and they skip over the things that really only apply in certain situations – dock facilities and parking.
So, do cities "select three or more services"? No. Cities are constitutionally responsible for all of the listed services:
- Cities may perform these services directly, by creating a police force for example;
- they may contract with a company to perform the services (like road maintenance);
- they may joint venture services with groups of cities;
- they may contract with another city to perform the services (Sandy Springs' library system is run by the City of Marietta);
- they may contract with their own, or another County to perform a service;
- they may split some of these apart (buy water, but manage the distribution).
But the City is responsible for all of them.
All of the cities which have been created in the last 10 years have concentrated on a set of services they thought were being handled poorly by their county, and created their own process for handling those services. Almost all thought that they were getting poor police protection from their County; almost all wanted more resources put in Parks; many took on street maintenance (partially because they wanted sidewalks); and everyone wanted to control zoning and planning in their areas. On the other hand, cities frequently contracted with their County to provide fire services, trash collection, public health, public housing, and water and sewer services.
Cities can change the way they're handling these services at any time. A city may decide to start their own fire department; they may decide to create a parking garage, or put up parking meters somewhere; they may decide some day to start their own trash collection. They can also decide to stop doing some service (as long as they continue to perform at least three services, distinct from their County).