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Forum takes city twist
County chat spiced with Cumming talk
District 1 candidate Brant Meadows speaks during Monday's debate. - photo by Jennifer Sami
For a debate between Forsyth County commission candidates, the city of Cumming got a fair share of discussion Monday.

During the Forsyth County Republican Party debate, District 1 hopefuls Pete Amos and Brant Meadows responded to a variety of issues.

Questions read by moderator and Georgia GOP Chairwoman Sue Everhart weren’t all about Cumming, but with topics like water and infrastructure improvements the city became a recurring theme.

Amos and Meadows meet in the July 20 Republican primary, with the winner advancing to face Democrat Mary Chatfield in the Nov. 2 general election.

Incumbent Commissioner Charles Laughinghouse is not seeking a third term.

As he has during previous debates, Meadows called Monday for the city and county water departments to be consolidated.

Amos responded that he didn’t think Cumming would want the consolidation, nor could the county afford it.

Both candidates appeared to be on the same page in supporting a new jail at the current location on Veterans Memorial Boulevard, possibly exploring vertical construction to minimize the footprint.

When asked about the county’s proposed purchase of Lanier Golf Course on Buford Dam Road, Meadows said he has serious concerns on both sides of the issue.

Officials have reviewed a plan to buy the course for $12 million and lease it to a private company that would operate it.

Amos said it is an overpriced proposal. The only way he would vote for it, he said, is to put it on a ballot and let the voters decide.

Last month, however, the commission rejected holding a bond referendum on the possible purchase.

Meadows said it would be counterintuitive to put the District 5 golf course on the ballot for the whole county to vote on, when commissioners are chosen by district.

Amos countered, saying while the course may be located in one district, every resident in the county would be entitled to play on it.

Both candidates were asked how they propose balancing the county’s budget.

The county commission is facing a projected $13.3 million shortfall in the budget for 2011, and commissioners may have to raise the millage rate to cover it.

Amos said he would work to entice more businesses to come and bring jobs to the county.

Meadows said he would hold department heads accountable.

For the future, however, he pointed to a previous division of the 1-cent sales tax.

With a “balance between the city and the county, we can do more for our future budget than just about any single issue,” he said.

The idea for a population-based, city-county sales tax split was mentioned again by Meadows when addressing how to fund infrastructure improvements.

“Everything that I will do will be in the best interest of all the citizens within our county and within the city,” he said.

The 1-cent sales tax, commonly known as a special purpose local option sales tax, or SPLOST, is decided by population if the city and county can’t agree on a split.

But a new law passed this past state legislative session carries a new process for determining the local option sales tax, or LOST.

In general terms, governments can use LOST funding for operations, while SPLOST money funds specific, voter-approved projects.

Under the new rule, if the city and county can’t agree on a LOST split, each government makes a proposal for arbitration and a judge will decide which one is better.

Amos said he believed in negotiating the best prices for county residents for sales tax splits, but “we need to work with [city leaders] and not have a pre-set mind that they’re only going to get 3 [or] 4 percent of the whole thing.”

“You should look at the projects they want to do,” he said. “If it’s helpful to the entire county, why not let the city do a project? Why does all the money have to come out of the county part of it?”

As a solution for how the county could increase revenue for its water and sewer fund, Meadows pointed to the equation of cost versus income.

“You’ve got to consider what the water rates are and where we’re purchasing the water and how much you’re paying for the water,” he said.

“If we had a more favorable rate with the city of Cumming, where we’re purchasing the water, or wherever we might obtain that water, then obviously that equation is brought into balance.”

The county gets most of its water from the city, which has something the county lacks — a permit to withdraw water from Lake Lanier.

The two entities are currently trying to agree on a new water contract. The current arrangement expires in May 2012.

“We’ve got to work with the city of Cumming to ensure we have good, clean water at a fair cost and go from there,” Amos said.

“We’ve got to look at ways of either bringing more businesses into our county to use the sewer capacity we have, or maybe we can sell some sewage capacity to surrounding counties. But the last alternative would be to raise the sewer rates.”