NORTH FORSYTH — A second town hall meeting on Forsyth County’s future and government structure attracted a smaller crowd whose geographic makeup was starkly different yet no less engaged.
Residents of north Forsyth gathered Wednesday night to discuss issues with the possibility of forming a new city, what would be the county’s second, in south Forsyth.
District 24 state Rep. Geoff Duncan was host of the event at the Coal Mountain Park Community Building. District 25 state Rep. Mike Dudgeon, who led the first session, moderated.
While many in the audience questioned the benefits the proposed city, tentatively called Sharon Springs, would bring to those not within its limits, they also suggested other options.
Those included how residents elect the county commission, its makeup and potentially consolidating the governments of Cumming and Forsyth.
Both legislators made their opinions clear about a yes or no vote for Sharon Springs — they can’t make one yet.
The point of these town hall meetings, Duncan said, is to foster discussion among residents, commissioners and elected officials. His legislative district includes parts of the proposed second city and north Forsyth.
“This gives us an opportunity to really hear what people want to say, whether they’re for or against [an issue],” Duncan said.
What is Sharon Springs?
Eric Crump, co-founder of the Sharon Springs Alliance, said the new municipality would be a “city light,” meaning it would provide just three services — planning and zoning, code enforcement and solid waste disposal. That’s the minimum number of services required by the Georgia Constitution.
The goal of the city, Crump said, would be to alleviate concerns that south Forsyth is growing at a faster rate and into a different lifestyle than the county’s north end.
But the goal of the alliance, according to Crump, is not to push the immediate formation of Sharon Springs. The nonprofit is focused instead on research and raising funds to support a third-party feasibility study to determine the costs, practicality and benefits of a new city.
The study, for which the alliance is close to its fundraising goal, would be conducted by the Carl Vinson Institute of the University of Georgia, one of the two groups endorsed by the Georgia Assembly.
The proposed map for Sharon Springs follows the southern boundaries of the Fulton-Forsyth line and western boundaries to Ga. 400 from the Fulton County line to Cumming city limits.
The new city would reach north to Cumming, following Ga. 20 south to Samples Road and continuing along Haw Creek Road to the Chattahoochee River. Eastern boundaries follow the river to meet the southern border.
The approximate area, according to an alliance map, totals 44 square miles, or 27,900 acres. There is one fire station within the proposed area, with three others near the border.
Provided services and borders could entirely change, Duncan noted. The study should show what’s best, whether that’s a different version or no Sharon Springs at all.
Concerns aired from opponents included a tax increase, duplication of services, lost revenue from the county that would be funneled into the city and a sliding scale leading to more small cities.
How should we vote for commissioners?
Other options brought up included the potential consolidation of Cumming and Forsyth into a single government, modeled after the success of similar efforts in Athens-Clarke County and Macon.
However, Duncan pointed out, this change would require a vote by the residents of the proposed city, as well as a vote by the county. Residents in the cities that have consolidated were motivated by a bad economic situation, which Cumming does not have.
With or without a merge, how residents vote for their county commissioners was a concern.
Although Forsyth voters chose in 2008 to elect commissioners by district-only balloting, many south Forsyth residents are unhappy that commissioners they cannot vote for have the power to decide matters in any district.
Dudgeon, whose district would fall almost entirely within the Sharon Springs’ boundaries, said the makeup of Forsyth is unlike any other county in the state with a population of at least 150,000. That makeup is five district-elected commissioners, five city councilmen and one mayor of a small city municipality.
Travis Jarrard, a government teacher at North Forsyth High School, said he likes the fact that only he and others in his district can vote for their commissioner.
The minority — north Forsyth — still has representation within the current system, even if it’s just one vote. With countywide voting, he said, the majority — south Forsyth — would have unequal pull.
The third and final town hall meeting will take place Nov. 18. Incoming state Sen. Michael Williams will serve as host.