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Courthouse, other projects could get fast start
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Forsyth County News


A new courthouse and expanded jail draw the most notice, but the 1-cent sales tax extension Forsyth County voters approved Tuesday will address several other capital projects.

The measure passed by a 52 percent to 48 percent margin. There were 6,825 votes in favor and 6,321 votes opposed.

The current sixth round of the sales tax doesn’t expire until June 2013.

The plan calls for spending the first $101 million in revenue from the special purpose local option sales tax, or SPLOST VII, to build the courthouse and expand the detention center, but also cover an emergency water generator.

Those projects, for which bonding was approved, can get started immediately, said County Commission Chairman Brian Tam.

“We can start land acquisition and site work for the jail expansion and courthouse,” Tam said. “We also need to go ahead and purchase the [$1 million] raw water generator.”

According to the sales tax agreement between Cumming and Forsyth County, the revenue after the first $101 million would be split, with 87.5 percent going to the county and 12.5 percent to the city.

Other county projects include: about $70 million for transportation improvements; about $3 million for an animal shelter; and $3.9 million to replace fire engines.

The county can also start the animal shelter project right away, Tam said.

The city’s list includes an estimated $7 million for park and recreation projects and about $5.5 million for road improvements.

Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt said the road projects will target: Kelly Mill at Hwy. 20; Maple Street at Hwy. 20; Veterans Memorial Boulevard at Hwy. 9; and Elm Street at Hwy. 9.

Another city project could include improvements to City Park, which would include doing away with the old swimming pool and adding more green space.

The pool, which debuted in 1973, was closed this summer after the opening of the city’s $15 million Cumming Aquatic Center.

“Hopefully [the passage of SPLOST VII] can move up the city and county to be leaders in the 21st century,” Gravitt said.

“Once we get these projects in line, they’ll be a great asset to our community. And hopefully they’ll provide a lot of jobs over the next three years.”

The mayor said the new courthouse, which will be built across East Maple Street in downtown Cumming from the detention center, was needed largely due to safety concerns.

“Now everything will be a lot more safe for all the jurors and everybody who works in the judicial fields,” he said. “This was a safety issue as much as anything else.”

County officials have said that preliminary plans call for a 110,000-square-foot courthouse, but only about 75,000 square feet would be built initially.

The remaining space could be added on later.

The facility is slated to include three Superior Court courtrooms, three State Court courtrooms, a jury assembly room, secure inmate area and court administration.

It would be connected to the expanded detention center by an elevated walkway or tunnel.

The existing courthouse would likely be re-purposed, to house Probate and Magistrate courts, as well as the indigent defense office and the property division of the clerk of court’s office.

Officials wanted to get the funding mechanism approved before developing detailed architectural plans and project programming.

Commissioner Todd Levent noted that with extra space for court rooms the county will be able to house the third Superior Court judge the state has approved.

“This will help us run those cases through a little quicker,” he said. “If those folks are found guilty and have a year or more sentence, they go down to the state penitentiary and they’re out of our system.”

Levent also serves on the animal shelter committee, which he said will start with design specifics and other pre-construction plans as early as its scheduled meeting Monday.

His hope with the shelter and other projects that can be started soon is to pay up front out of the county’s general fund and reimburse the money once the sales tax revenue comes in.

“If we bond anything, it’ll be minimal just to get it started,” said Levent, adding that he plans to dispel negative or false comments he heard around the election.

“I plan to be frugal with the money and show the public that those accusations just aren’t so,” he said. “I hope to come in under budget on most or all of the projects.”

Steve Voshall is chairman of the Forsyth County Tea Party, which opposed the referendum.

Though disappointed by the outcome, Voshall said the party is about much more than one sales tax vote, and will continue to work toward less and better government from the local levels on up.

David Seago, who co-chaired pro-SPLOST group Citizens For Progess, watched the returns come in with some of the elected officials Tuesday night.

The sales tax became the subject of “contentious” debate among county residents, Seago said.

“Now it’s time to come back together,” he said. “Let’s get these projects started.”

Staff Writer Crystal Ledford contributed to this report.