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Both sides dig in at forum
Cost timing questioned, defended
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Forsyth County News


Other questions from Tuesday night’s town hall meeting:


Q: What projects is the county required to complete?

A: All $180 million worth of projects in the Tier A list must be completed without rollover into potential future SPLOST rounds, as has been legally allowed in the past. Tier B projects are not required to be completed unless the collections reach that amount.


Q: Why can’t the jail be built on the land purchased in 2007 on Veterans Memorial Boulevard?

A: That 33-acre property is being marketed by the Forsyth County Development Authority for other purposes.


Q: Who contributed funding the Citizens for Progress?

A: Private citizens made donations to the committee, which can be reviewed next week through the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission.


Q: Who determined that about 38 percent of SPLOST revenue comes from out-of-county residents?

A: The figure came from the U.S. Consumer Expenditure Survey and U.S. Census Bureau of Retail Trade.


• View the full list of proposed SPLOST projects and find more information at

Residents aired comments, questions and concerns during a town hall discussion Tuesday night of the Nov. 8 referendum on the 1-cent sales tax.

Early voting began Monday on the proposed six-year extension of Forsyth County’s special purpose local option sales tax, or SPLOST.

The sales tax, projected to collect $200 million from 2013-19, would fund a jail expansion, new courthouse, road improvements and more.

About 50 people attended the event, which was organized and moderated by community group Smart Growth Forsyth.

County Commission Chairman Brian Tam opened the discussion with a presentation on the proposed tax projects, which he called "needs, not wants."

Tam described the many community improvements paid for by previous tax collections since 1983, including road intersection projects, fire engines and other amenities.

"We use the SPLOST to reinvest in our community," he said.

David Seago, co-chair of pro-SPLOST group Citizens for Progress, addressed some of the challenges people have raised with the referendum.

The courthouse, jail and associated parking deck projects, which are estimated to cost about $100 million, are community needs, he said.

Built in 1974 and ’76, respectively, the courthouse and jail have grown crowded and unable to fulfill the standards required by law, he said.

Those conclusions were drawn from a needs analysis by Wakefield Beasley & Associates, Seago said.

Language in the ballot will allow the county to bond out money to begin construction on the facilities immediately, he said.

Tam said the county is "ready to go" on the projects, which he’d rather fund through a sales tax than wait for a judge to order one or both be built.

No such warning has been issued, he said, but the county could face such a ruling based on precedent from other cases.

For the proposed jail expansion, Tam noted that the county "farms out half of our prisoners to five different counties" at an increased expense.

"At some point, the five counties … run out of space," he said. "There’s no guarantee that we can keep doing the system we have now."

The local detention center has 220 beds but about 450 inmates at any given time, Tam said.

The proposed expansion would increase the number of beds into the high 600s, he said.

"This is the time to construct these projects," Tam said. "Material costs won’t be any less [in the future]."

The jail and courthouse drew the most debate during the forum.

Hal Schneider said the numbers presented by officials have been inflated, including the cost to send inmates to other counties.

"You would have to pay for meals whether they’re outsourced or in the jail," Schneider said. "There are people that are skewing these numbers to make it sound like there’s a lot more money being spent on this issue."

The eventual need for a larger jail, he said, is not being contested, but rather the timing of it and the proposed tax extension.

"Put off the building of the jail for now," Schneider said. "We can do it when the economy has improved and we don’t have people unemployed and a double-dip recession."

Steve Voshall, founder of the Forsyth County Tea Party, said jail conditions far worse than in Forsyth led to a judge’s order elsewhere.

"You’re comparing apples and watermelon," Voshall said.

The location and sheer size of the proposed local jail expansion and new courthouse also drew criticism from attendees.

Plans call for the new courthouse to be built across from the current courthouse. Maple Street would separate the new courthouse and detention center.

Officials have said that arrangement would improve public safety during inmate transports.

Hugh Scott Shashy said the institutional facilities will squash the business potential of downtown Cumming.

A new jail has been rejected by voters in three other locations, including most recently in 2008 on a 33-acre parcel on Veterans Memorial farther east of town.

"We think it’s the most frugal, sensible, cheapest way to do it, and that to me is the location," said Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt.

"Rather than demolishing the old site and tearing it down … it’s not cost effective."

He added that he believes the sales tax is the best and fairest way to fund the projects.

"Figure out how much the dollars you spend will actually save you this year [without the 1-cent tax], Gravitt said. "It’s not going to be that much compared to what we need … to improve public safety."