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Group OKs moving ahead with new south Forsyth city
If bill passes, voters could decide fate of Sharon Springs in May
Sharon springs

A committee tasked with looking into issues surrounding a new city in south Forsyth has recommended moving ahead with the proposed city of Sharon Springs but wants residents in the area to make the final call.

Formed by District 25 state Rep. Todd Jones as part of House Bill 626 — which began the process for cityhood — the group is made of up of 12 members recommended by Forsyth County Commissioners and members of the legislative delegation. 

Per the study, the majority of the committee “have the right to self-determination” and “the voters in the proposed city of Sharon Springs should be allowed to determine their own destiny.”

The bill will need to pass both houses of the Georgia General Assembly and be signed by Gov. Nathan Deal to go to voters. If passed, the referendum will be held in May 2018.

Only voters in the area of the proposed city will be able to vote, and the committee recommended the referendum must have the support of 57.5 percent — a compromise between a simple majority and two-thirds majority — of voters. 

The approximate boundaries of the proposed city are east of Ga. 400, south of Hwy. 20, west of the Chattahoochee River — already a boundary with Gwinnett County — and north of the Fulton County line.

The previous Sharon Springs Bill, which was filed in 2015 and removed in early 2016, had been proposed as a “city light,” meaning the city could have just three services — zoning, sanitation and code enforcement. A legal opinion by an attorney for the state of Georgia has since been given that the constitution does not allow limiting the number of services, which was one reason for the original bill being pulled.

Under HB 626, the city will begin with three services but will not be limited. 

Planning and zoning, enforcement of building, housing, plumbing, electrical codes and other similar codes, and solid waste management have been recommended as the three services but the committee said whether those were the appropriate services to initially offer cannot be addressed by the bill’s language.

Similarly, the committee said the bill’s language could not address how expanded services would be funded, whether it was appropriate for Sharon Springs to “divert between $3.5M and $6.5M from the county due to the re-allocation of franchise, permit and license fees” and whether the .5 mill cap on the millage rate would affect the city’s ability to receive a bond rating. 

The committee said residents would “continue to receive the vast majority of governmental services from the county” and still be represented and able to vote at the county level.

The city would be financed through the property tax assessment of up to .5 mills, which the committee said would translate to $0-$50 in taxes per home, through franchise fees.

Officials in the city would be elected by a “hybrid approach” of a mayor and three city council members elected city-wide and three remaining council members representing a geographic area.

In March 2015, a study done by the Sharon Springs Alliance, a group favoring cityhood, announced a study it commissioned from the Carl Vinson Institute at the University of Georgia found the city was feasible. A bill to move forward with cityhood was introduced later that month by Jones’ predecessor, Mike Dudgeon.

The bill had to be introduced more than a year before it was voted on and was expected to be on the 2016 ballot.

At that time, those in favor of Sharon Springs contended the area had been misrepresented in terms of zoning, which is among the driving factors. Opponents voiced concerns about a possible higher tax burden.

Another study was commissioned by Forsyth County and performed by Alfie Meek, director of the innovation strategy and impact team at Georgia Tech.

That study found the county would save about $769,000 but would lose about $6.2 million in revenue.

In October, county commissioners approved a new financial impact study to be done by Georgia State University for about $40,000. The findings of the committee’s study will be included in the school’s study.

In a statement at the beginning of the study, Jones said the Sharon Springs Alliance “may consider commissioning the draft of another report” and urged any new report to work with members of the committee. 

“It is folly to believe that any third party can provide numbers in a vacuum,” Jones said. “The committee members can go beyond the numbers and speak to the variety of positions that the citizens have relating to Sharon Springs.”