Also on Thursday, Forsyth County commissioners:
• Approved a change to the county’s sign ordinance that will allow billboards to convert to LED display signs without the previous requirement of a 15 percent reduction in size. In return, owners of those billboards will agree to display public information messages in addition to advertising. Commissioners voted 3-1, with Jim Boff opposed.
• Agreed to a settlement with Chrysler regarding a Dodge Charger that had electrical problems and was destroyed by fire. The county will receive $12,955 for the vehicle, plus about $1,200 for missing equipment.
• Discussed changing a 2005 variable rate demand bond for the water and sewer department. The rate has rapidly increased due to a change in market conditions with holder Dexia Bank, which has strong ties to financially troubled Greece. The commission plans to make a decision on the bond at its work session Tuesday. Some options include changing the banking facility, refinancing or setting a fixed rate.
• Gave final approval to a banking services contract with United Community Bank, which agreed to waive all fees for the first year. The vote was 2-1, with Commissioner Jim Boff opposed and Patrick Bell recusing himself.
• Authorized a payment installment program for residents who connect to water or sewer.
Note: All votes were 4-0, with Commissioner Todd Levent absent, unless otherwise noted.
— Alyssa LaRenzie
Forsyth County officials heard from several residents Thursday who don’t think it would be a good idea to buy a neonatal pediatric ambulance.
The three speakers each asked the commission not to spend $700,000 on the ambulance, which would be operated by Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta from its new Forsyth location.
"It is wrong for any government … to donate money to a private entity no matter what the cause is," Brad Wilkins said.
County Attorney Ken Jarrard has previously said the local government could help pay for the vehicle, since it would provide a public health and safety service.
Standard ambulances in the county are not equipped to meet the needs of small children, Jarrard said.
Funding for the vehicle could come from the fire department, he said, as well as other private donations to the health care center.
Speakers Thursday asked that the ambulance be funded entirely through private donations, rather than taxpayer money to the fire department..
Wilkins, who is also first vice chair of the local Republican Party, suggested the county support the ambulance by providing an optional donation for customers to round up water bills. That way, residents could make their own decision.
Resident Trilby Leech said she supports Children’s Healthcare — but does so from her own checkbook.
Former Commissioner David Richard said the county would be stretching a law that allows public safety purchases to grant a donation to the private hospital.
"Constitutionally, this is a bad idea," Richard said. "It’s true that the county pays money to private entities today to provide the ambulance service, but what they do with that money is their own business.
"You’re talking about buying equipment outright for a private entity."
He added that the county has already given financial benefits to the business in the form of waivers on the tree ordinance and water and sewer to The Avenue Forsyth.
The outdoor shopping mall later sold property to Children’s Healthcare at a "reduced value made possible on the backs of Forsyth County taxpayers."
The county has not determined whether it will fund the ambulance, but commissioners did vote 5-0 in late June to have Jarrard bring back a proposal with the specifics.