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Growth group: No tax stance for now
Members will instead stir discussion
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Forsyth County News

Smart Growth Forsyth decided not to take a position Tuesday on the Nov. 8 referendum to continue the 1-cent sales tax.

Instead, the community group has opted to provide information and promote discussion on the topic.

The decision came after members heard from two Forsyth County commissioners during a meeting.

"Our scheme in this would just be whether or not we influence … voter turnout by providing people with an avenue to hear more about it and ask questions one on one," said Claudia Castro, deputy director.

Smart Growth will revisit the issue at its Oct. 18 meeting, after hearing a full presentation from Commission Chairman Brian Tam.

The organization also plans to hold a community forum at that meeting.

Tam, with input from Commissioner Jim Boff, gave the group an overview of the upcoming 1-cent sales tax referendum Tuesday.

The extension of the special purpose local option sales tax, also known as SPLOST VII, is projected to collect $200 million between 2013-19.

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

But if voters agree this fall, the plan calls for spending $101 million of SPLOST VII revenue to build a new courthouse and emergency water generator, as well as expand the Forsyth County Detention Center.

Tam said the courthouse and jail projects are needed to relieve crowding and update facilities built in the 1970s.

He noted that the jail has 220 beds and 450 prisoners, who are "farmed out to five different counties" at a greater expense to Forsyth.

"We have an opportunity to pay for [a jail] with sales tax dollars, as opposed to a possible property tax increase if a judge orders us to build a jail, which has happened to several counties," Tam said.

"We’re being proactive. We’re trying to expand the existing facility and put the courthouse right across the street."

The buildings would be built in the downtown Cumming area.

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

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

Though the tax extension would provide for infrastructure, which Smart Growth sometimes weighs in on, the primary purpose of the vote is the funding mechanism, managing director Bob Slaughter said.

"We generally do not get into the business of funding of government," Slaughter said. "Our issue is, ‘Does this make it a better place to live?’"