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Education impact fees unlikely in 16, Forsyth senator vows to keep fighting

ATLANTA — A state senator who represents Forsyth County said some progress was made when he brought a bill he authored in support of impact fees for education to the Senate Finance Committee.

District 27 state Sen. Michael Williams presented Senate Bill 344 and Senate Resolution 624, which would amend the Georgia Constitution to allow local boards of education to asses and collect impact fees to finance public school construction.

Currently, school systems in Georgia cannot collect impact fees, which are fees assessed on builders for new development.

“Seven people showed up. I was happy with that, considering it was at 4 p.m. on a Monday,” Williams said.

He said of the seven, two were Forsyth County Board of Education members — Kristin Morrissey of south Forsyth’s District 2 and chairwoman Darla Light of District 4 in north Forsyth — and two were candidates who are running for a county commission seat this November — Justin Hawkins for District 5 in east Forsyth and Kelli Warren in District 4.

“To be fair, [District 4 Commissioner] Cindy [Jones Mills] reached out to me and wanted to be there, but had a previous engagement,” he said.

Williams said he does not expect the bill to gain enough momentum this legislative session to get it out of the committee and onto the Senate floor, but that these hearings and meetings are laying the foundation for it to possibly move forward next year.

Pushback on educational impact fees occurred last year when a blanket implementation was thought to discourage builders in counties that need growth. That led Williams to write language into SB 344 that defines eligible school districts only as those experiencing high, sustained growth.

He has said that would include Forsyth County and possibly two other school districts.

Williams said he thought the hearing went well because he is working to change the minds of senators by explaining what these funds would be used for and the need for them in Forsyth County.

“When I explained our cost per student to educate a child … it’s below the state average and the lowest in the metro area,” he said. “We’re not being frivolous with the funds we are getting. We need them to continue to build.”

He said he pointed out the district’s high graduation rates and SAT scores and rapid growth to prove “this isn’t just Senator Williams trying to get more money for his school board.”

The committee came up with some alternative ideas, including a study committee. Williams said he was not sold on that.

He did, however, say he picked up another supporter in the Senate in Jack Hill, a Republican from Reidsville in southeast Georgia. He is the chairman of the Appropriations Committee and on the Finance Committee.

“We put a crack in the perception of the people,” Williams said, “and we have to continue to put pressure on it.”