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Forsyth's state lawmakers make it official: Sharon Springs not happening
Delegation notes that city light setup likely unconstitutional

SOUTH FORSYTH — Forsyth County’s state legislative delegation confirmed Tuesday that the effort to form a city in south Forsyth would not be moving forward.

District 25 state Rep. Mike Dudgeon attributed the decision, which first surfaced Monday afternoon, to two factors — issues with the state constitution and a proposal to instead add a new at-large chairman to the county commission.

“The delegation has decided to withdraw House Bill 660, which would enable a referendum on the creation of Sharon Springs,” Dudgeon announced during a pre-legislative breakfast organized by the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce. “Legal developments and opinions over 2015 have made ‘city light’ restrictions in a charter unconstitutional.”

Sharon Springs was floated as a so-called “city light,” meaning that it would have a limit of a maximum millage rate of 0.5 mills and offer just three services — zoning, sanitation and code enforcement. Dudgeon, who introduced HB 660 last spring and represents much of south Forsyth, also described the millage rate as “problematic.”

The city likely would have covered an area east of Ga. 400, south of Hwy. 20, west of the Chattahoochee River and north of the Fulton County line. It includes an estimated quarter of the county’s population, some 50,000 people.

Had the proposal cleared the Georgia General Assembly this winter, a referendum in November would have let voters in that area decide on cityhood.

Both the Sharon Springs Alliance, a group that supports cityhood, and Forsyth County’s government commissioned studies by state universities to measure the impact of a new municipality.

Those in favor of Sharon Springs contend the area has been misrepresented in terms of zoning, which is among the driving factors. Opponents have voiced concerns about a possible higher tax burden.

Not surprisingly city supporters were not enthusiastic about Tuesday’s news. Phillip Barlag, founder and of the Sharon Springs Alliance, said the group’s stance hasn’t changed.

“I believe that the homeowners are more alone now than they’ve ever been,” Barlag said. “I think that the delegation’s withdrawal of support for the Sharon Springs bill is disheartening, but the rationale for why the city is necessary only gets stronger every day.”

State Sen. Mike Williams, whose District 27 includes most of Forsyth, said he was told by the chairman of the Senate Local and Government Committee that a ‘city light’ bill could not make it due to constitutional issues.

“At that time, myself as well as other members of the delegation had to decide what can we do with this information,” Williams said “Do we keep the bill alive and let those that supported the bill continue to fight and then let the bill die in committee so we can wash out hands and say, ‘You know what, we tried, it’s their fault?’

“Or do we come out be honest and truthful with everybody and say, ‘This bill is dead, guys. What can we do now?’”

Forsyth’s delegation includes five state representatives and two senators, all Republicans.

Newly elected District 24 state Rep. Sheri Gilligan said the state is looking into a possible different designation for smaller cities. “We are looking at other types of municipalities; something called townships that a lot of other states have,” she said.

According to Gilligan, that means Sharon Springs could come back under the new designation. “Nothing is necessarily dead,” she said. “… We are just now looking for another avenue to make sure that, indeed, the people of Forsyth County get the government and the governance that they are wanting.”

State Rep. Kevin Tanner of Dawsonville, whose District 9 includes some of north Forsyth, said townships are not currently allowed in Georgia.

The Sharon Springs’ announcement was not a surprise, as County Commissioner Brain Tam had mentioned during a meeting Monday that it was his understanding the city bill would not move forward.

In an email Monday, Dudgeon declined comment on the issue, but noted it would come up at the legislative breakfast.

The news likely affects a second group, the newly formed Bethelview Alliance, which announced last week that it would be exploring the possibility of incorporating an area of west Forsyth.

Officials did not talk about the Bethelview movement Monday or Tuesday.

Dudgeon also announced during the breakfast that officials would pursue adding a sixth member to the county commission, Forsyth’s governing body. The new member would be an at-large chairperson voted on by the entire county and who could take office in January 2017.

“The delegation intends to pass local legislation [this session] that would add a countywide elected chairman,” Dudgeon said. “This will be effective in the 2016 election, with qualifying in mid-March, primary in May and the general election in November.”

Under the present setup, the five commissioners vote among themselves to determine a chair, who serves in the post for a year at a time.

The change appears to be a compromise between the commission’s current configuration and the pre-2010 version, in which commissioners had to live in the district they represented but were elected countywide.

Dudgeon said the new official would be a full voting member and fill a role similar to that held by the current appointed chairman, who runs the meetings.

Dudgeon said the local delegation supports the concept, which he hopes Gov. Nathan Deal can sign into law as soon as late January.

He also said that members of the delegation will be holding town hall meetings to discuss the new position with the community.