Also during their work session Tuesday, Forsyth County commissioners:
• Discussed a request by the Grand Cascades Community Association that the county sponsor its application for a grant from Georgia Environmental Protection Division for stormwater facility remediation.
The county asked the subdivision representatives to get written confirmation from EPD that the project qualifies and that Forsyth’s application would be able to be processed at the same time without penalty.
The commission plans to vote on the matter Aug. 28.
• Permitted the Forsyth County Civil Service Board to change its policy on selecting an as-needed alternate member.
The process will allow the two elected members to pre-determine alternates, as is done with the third appointed member.
• Approved a limited right of access agreement with The Dunn Family Partnership to allow the county to use land for a trail on Sawnee Mountain Preserve. The 8-foot wide path will travel 1,350 feet and is without cost to the county.
• Reviewed a possible intergovernmental agreement with the city of Cumming to jointly pursue acquiring a property by purchase or condemnation.
The property at Pilgrim Mill Road and Main Street, behind the clock tower, is owned by ACH Development.
The governments would split the cost, with each party’s use determined by a final survey.
The county would like to use the site for parking, while the city needs right of way for future road improvements.
• Changed the classification for the director of senior services from civil service protection to an “at-will” position under the direction of the county manager, among other job description updates. The post is currently vacant.
• Awarded a bid for the construction of Fire Station No. 3 on Matt Highway to CRS Building Corporation for about $1.58 million. The funds will come from current 1-cent sales tax collections.
Note: All votes were 4-0, with Commissioner Brian Tam absent.
— Alyssa LaRenzie
Forsyth County commissioners have less than two weeks to determine whether to add a referendum on inventory tax exemptions to the Nov. 6 ballot.
The commission on Tuesday again discussed the possibility of asking voters whether they’d like to allow the county to exempt all or part of ad valorem taxes for businesses.
County Attorney Ken Jarrard said Aug. 21 would be the latest date to make a decision on whether to put out the referendum on the ballot for the General Election this fall.
Commissioner Patrick Bell first brought up the issue for consideration in May after a state law made it possible for counties to put the matter on a ballot.
Bell said the exemption would be an incentive to attract businesses to Forsyth.
“It’s important that this board show the business community … that we’re interested in stepping up and doing what we can to bring businesses and jobs to this county,” he said.
During their last discussion on the inventory exemption, commissioners decided to reach out to the local school board for input, since the system’s revenue would be affected by the cut in the tax.
Chairman Jim Boff said the school board showed no interest in discussing a possible referendum and cited a need for a study on the impact of such an exemption.
An earlier presentation to commissioners estimates the county takes in about $927,000 in a year from inventory taxes, and the school system receives nearly $2.3 million.
Bell suggested implementing a 20 percent exemption in the first year, and then the commission can continue to increase the exemption in 20-percent increments.
According to the law, once the exemption amount is increased, it cannot be lowered without a referendum.
A 20-percent exemption would reportedly equate to a loss in revenue of about $185,000 for the county and about $816,000 for the school system.
The aim, Bell said, is that the county will begin to see a return on its investment offering the exemption through increased sales tax and property tax revenues as more business comes to Forsyth.
His fellow commissioners weren’t sold on the idea that businesses would respond to the measure, or that the exemption wouldn’t be passed down to homeowners in the form of a tax increase.
Commissioner Todd Levent said residential growth and county demographics attract businesses.
“I don’t know that this is actually the answer to give us the cutting edge,” Levent said.
Commissioner Pete Amos agreed that businesses “follow the rooftops,” and the county has the most residential building permits in the state coming through.
Amos and Levent also expressed concern about how the reduction in revenue would impact the school system.
“It’s going to hit them twice as hard as it’s going to hit us,” Levent said.
The two agreed to try reaching out to the school district for input prior to taking a vote Aug. 16.
Boff had concerns that the exemption for businesses could result in a property tax increase for homeowners.
“Whatever the percentage is, where’s it going to be made up?” he said.
Bell said the amount of residential growth without commercial taxes would lead to a heavier burden for homeowners later.
“If you do nothing, you will see an increased millage rate in the future because our digest is unbalanced,” Bell said.
He asked the county attorney and staff to determine what other counties levy in inventory and property taxes, as well as which governments plan to put the issue on the November ballot.