Harlem expansion no longer happening? Mayor asks Gov. Kemp to veto HB 598

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Saturday, March 13, 2019

HARLEM, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT)-- The city of Harlem is doing away with its original plan to add on land that would stretch up to I-20. The mayor is now calling on Gov. Brian Kemp to veto the plan known as House Bill 598.

Over the years Harlem has seen growth in its population, and in response the city decided it should expand. While the city seemed to be making steps forward to annex land, the county seemed to be against it. Columbia County Commission and Columbia County Sheriff's Office spoke out against the bill.

And most recently, property owners have formally made a stance against the expansion. One landowner wrote in a letter on Friday that the expansion would not benefit his property.

Now, Mayor Roxanne Whitaker has called on the governor to veto the bill.

In a Saturday Press release, Whitaker said State Representative Barry Fleming said he would only sponsor the bill if the affected property owners were not opposed to the plans. Now that it is clear owners are opposed, Whitaker issued an apology.

"On behalf of the City of Harlem, we apologize to Representative Fleming that we were not able to achieve a 100% support of this bill from land owners that we previously informed him we would have."

City officials say they will not let this bump in the road affect their ability to work with county officials. Adding, they will continue to find ways to address Harlem's growth:

"City staff had been working with land owners for over
two years and found a majority supported this annexation into the City in order to receive the benefit of City utilities and services. Mayor Whitaker stated that during her administration, the City would continue to consider future annexations in which the land owners are willing to file documentation requesting annexation. Mayor Pro-Tem John Thigpen pledged to continue working with property owners who wish to come into the City for utilities. Although this is a setback for the City, Thigpen says it will not hinder Harlem long term in accomplishing their previously approved plan for confronting the massive growth in the Harlem area. Mayor Whitaker reiterated that although the City and County disagreed on this issue, she will not allow it to affect the working relationship between both entities. Columbia County has agreed to place an ambulance within the Harlem City limits within the next month for which the citizens in this area are very appreciative. The County has always assisted Harlem, and we expect that relationship to continue as Harlem faces unprecedented population growth over the next few years."