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Forsyth County study to look at proposed city of Sharon Springs

SOUTH FORSYTH — The Forsyth County commission voted 5-0 on Thursday to move forward with a study on the financial impact of the proposed city of Sharon Springs in south Forsyth.

The study will be handled by Alfie Meek of the Enterprise Innovation Institute at Georgia Tech.

“This has been discussed multiple times at work sessions, where the county, board of commissioners, wants to … have conducted a fiscal impact study based upon the prospective creation of Sharon Springs,” said County Attorney Ken Jarrard. “We have, in fact, received a professional services proposal by Dr. Meek, but candidly it’s by Georgia Tech. It is by a state agency.”

This will the second study conducted on Sharon Springs, which would be the county’s second municipality and cover much of south Forsyth, by a state research university.

The Sharon Springs Alliance, a group that supports the proposed city, hired the Carl Vinson Institute at the University of Georgia to conduct a study. The report, which was received in March, determined that Sharon Springs was viable.

It examined similarly sized municipalities and found “that likely available revenues exceed likely expenditures for the services identified to be provided, and therefore conclude that a city comprised of the Sharon Springs study area is fiscally feasible.”

Jarrard said the vote Thursday was to “conduct a fiscal impact study different than the Carl Vinson study, also to include the ramifications of potential loss of [1-cent sales tax] revenue, which we specifically set forth in the agreement.”

“It has the project coming back in late September, early October. And it does anticipate a mid-project sit-down with the county,” he said.

Opponents of Sharon Springs have been skeptical of the first study, which was funded entirely by supporters, noting that such efforts rarely, if ever, find that a city isn’t viable.

The proposed city would cover an area in south Forsyth stretching from the Fulton County line to Hwy. 20 with an eastern border of the Chattahoochee River and the western border of Ga. 400. The new city would have about 50,000 residents.

Those in favor of Sharon Springs contend the area has been misrepresented in terms of zoning, which is among the driving factors in the cityhood movement.

As presented, the municipality would be considered a “city light,” a designation for cities such as Peachtree Corners in neighboring Gwinnett County, which offer limited services. Sharon Springs likely would offer only sanitation, zoning and code enforcement.

It would not impose property taxes or use or create a new sales tax. Supporters have said the system of governance would be covered in the city’s charter.

Since it would not be using property or sales taxes, the largest sources of revenue likely would come from franchise fees — cable TV, electric, natural gas and phone lines — as well as insurance premiums and development fund and zoning and variance fees and permits.

The city would also gain revenue from occupation and hotel/motel taxes and alcohol licenses and taxes, among other sources.

In March, District 25 state Rep. Mike Dudgeon introduced a bill to the Georgia General Assembly to initiate the initiate the process of creating the city.

The bill cannot be approved until the 2016 legislative session, which starts in January. If it clears the General Assembly, a referendum on the city could be held later that year.

Only those living within the proposed city limits — an estimated quarter of the county’s population — would be eligible to vote. If the measure were to pass at the polls, the city could begin operating by 2017.