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City, county talking sales tax
Governments must determine project list
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Forsyth County News

 

Officials from the two governments in Forsyth County came together Tuesday for their first formal discussion about a proposed extension of the 1-cent sales tax.

The meeting between Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt, all five city council members and the Forsyth County commission was the first of what likely will be several on the matter.

The two sides must agree on the projects that would be funded by the tax extension, as well as a division of the money.

A referendum on the special purpose local option sales tax, also known as SPLOST VII, could be held as early as November. The current sales tax doesn't expire until 2013.

Commission Chairman Brian Tam thanked city leaders for attending and said the parties would “move forward with a spirit of cooperation” throughout the process.

The city receives a portion of the sales tax revenue from the county, which proved to be a divisive issue with the last tax extension.

In 2008, the city and county entered into litigation over the current SPLOST VI tax cycle.

In a negotiated a compromise, the city received its population-based 4.29 percent share, as well as $10 million from the county toward the city's aquatic center and $2.5 million toward any of the city's prioritized construction projects.

Cumming received 15 percent of the revenue from SPLOST V.

According to state law, if a county and its municipalities reach an agreement, the sales tax can last for six years.

If a compromise cannot be reached, the disbursement is based on population according to the most recent census and must be voted on again after five years.

By law, sales tax money can go only to certain capital improvement projects that are determined prior to the referendum. Tuesday’s meeting was a first step in that process.

Tam said county leaders have not finished compiling possible county projects yet, although the top priority likely will be construction of a new courthouse and jail near their current sites in downtown Cumming. The existing facilities are outdated and crowded.

“We’re working hard toward a new jail and courthouse on this vote,” Tam said. “Of course, we’ll need the city’s cooperation since the buildings will be in the city limits.”

Tam said other county sales tax projects would “be forthcoming” in the next few weeks.

Gravitt commended county leaders for pursuing the criminal justice projects.

“We’re in agreement and we intend to support the new jail and courthouse,” he said, noting the city would likely contribute a portion of its sales tax percentage to the project.

Besides the judicial complex, Gravitt said the city has a “wish list” consisting of a number of road projects and renovations to Cumming City Park.

He said all the projects would also benefit the county since the roads stretch beyond the city's limits.

Gravitt said the total cost of the city’s wish list is about $33.6 million.

“We know that’s a large sum and we won’t get that much out of SPLOST VII, but we just wanted to put these all on the table and discuss them,” Gravitt said.

Some of the possibilities include improvements to Ridgecrest Avenue and Brooks Farm, Kelly Mill and Sanders roads, as well as Camilla, Church, Maple, Rest Haven and Tolbert streets.

Another municipal project for consideration was redevelopment of City Park.

With the opening of the Cumming Aquatic Center next month, the city plans to close the park’s old pool, which debuted in 1973, Gravitt said.

“The small pool will be closed and we want to renovate the park and do a lot of green space type things at the park,” he said.

City Manager Gerald Blackburn said the majority of the city's suggested projects would be carried over from the current SPLOST VI list.

Tam said the commissioners have established a timeline, which denotes June 16 as the deadline for the governments to have a complete project list.

He said county and city leaders would hold at least one more joint meeting before then, though no dates were set Tuesday.