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Big talks ahead for city, county
Must seal deals on water, LOST
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Forsyth County News

Other action

Also during their meeting Thursday, Forsyth County commissioners:

• Modified the county alcohol ordinance to reduce the criteria automatically barring a person from receiving an employee alcohol sales permit.

If an applicant has had an underage sales violation in the past three years in any jurisdiction, a Forsyth County sales permit will not be issued.

Previously, any violation in the past five years was an automatic bar.

• Approved an amendment to the lease agreement between the county and Georgia State Patrol for property on County Way off Ga. 400 in north Forsyth.

The changes would allow the county to have the area previously used for a drivers’ training course.

The site has been discussed as a potential location for a future county animal shelter.

• Heard from Joe Moses, a member of the planning board, during the public comment period.

Moses talked about recent changes adopted and proposed for the planning board’s by-laws.

He said the commission could create the planning board’s by-laws if desired. He also summed up his recommended changes that did not get adopted, which included decorum, education and ethics.

Note: All votes were 5-0 unless otherwise noted.

— Alyssa LaRenzie

Relations between Forsyth County and the only incorporated city within its borders, Cumming, will be key this year as the two governments negotiate some vital issues.

The sides must reach agreements on the local option sales tax, service delivery strategy and water contracts.

“Forsyth County has some fairly big issues in front of it in 2012,” said County Attorney Ken Jarrard, who framed the matters for the commissioners and the public during a meeting Thursday.

None of the five sitting commissioners were in office the last time any of these issues were negotiated.

The local option sales tax, known as LOST, is a 1-cent on the dollar tax that helps local governments roll back the property tax rate, Jarrard said.

The tax was approved by referendum in 1976.  Forsyth and Cumming must determine a split of the revenue based primarily on services provided by each government, he said.

“I don’t think you’ll see anywhere that it talks about a population split,” Jarrard said. “However, if you were to look at LOST distributions throughout the metro area, a lot of times you will see numbers that look a whole lot like a population split.”

The current percentage split between Forsyth County and Cumming is 85-15.

In 2012, LOST is projected to generate about $24.8 million for the county, which amounts to about 27 percent of the $92.4 million general fund budget.

The percentages are renegotiated two years after the U.S. Census is taken each decade.

This year, negotiations must formally begin by July 1 and conclude by Dec. 30.

If an agreement cannot be forged, the dispute would go first to mediation, Jarrard said.

To determine that split, the county and city will look extensively at their service delivery strategy, which is required by state law.

“The reason it’s required is simply so that cities and counties are not having redundancies in service, having overlaps in service and, quite frankly, double-taxing their citizens to provide duplicative services,” Jarrard said.

“The way you could know that is to have this methodical strategy session to iron out any differences.”

In preparation for the talks, county staff has begun to meet with city representatives to review the current services, Jarrard said.

The service delivery strategy must be agreed to each time a revenue source, such as a LOST, comes up for negotiation or at the completion of a comprehensive plan update, which the county must approve by October, he said.

Prior to those issues reaching a deadline, the county’s water contracts with the city will expire in May.

“The board may want to pay particular attention to the May 2012 expiration of our two water contracts and perhaps focus its attention there,” Jarrard said.

Forsyth County currently buys most of its water from Cumming, which has a permit to withdraw from Lake Lanier. The county does not.

Price has been one sticking point in previous discussions about the county’s contracts to purchase both untreated and treated water from the city.

Currently, the untreated water contract formula amounts to the county paying about 9 or 10 cents per 1,000 gallons to the city, Jarrard said.

Forsyth County receives up to 16 million gallons per day under the agreement.

For treated water, the county pays $2.43 per 1,000 gallons, a cost that can fluctuate with the consumer price index, Jarrard said.

The county buys about 4.5 million gallons per day of treated water on average, he said.