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Commission agrees on SPLOST projects
Next up is meeting with city
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Forsyth County News



A proposed jail expansion and new courthouse could take up half of the next 1-cent sales tax program, if approved by voters.


Forsyth County commissioners gave preliminary approval to a list of special purpose local option sales tax, or SPLOST, projects during a meeting Thursday.


The price tag on the county projects exceeds $200 million, with the jail and courthouse expected to cost $100 million.


Transportation projects took the next big chunk, totaling about $85 million, most of which would go toward widening roads.


The remaining $15 million is divided among various efforts, including $3 million for an animal shelter.


The current round of 1-cent sales tax collections does not expire until June 2013. With voter approval, however, that tax could continue for up to six years, until June 2019.


County officials have been working toward a Nov. 8 referendum on the tax extension.


Sales tax projections for the potential six-year collection period could bring in about $214 million, finance director David Gruen said.


“The high-side possibilities are perhaps even greater [depending on] growth and inflation,” Gruen said. “I tried to pick a number as modest as I could.”


The next step will be to finalize a project list with the city of Cumming, which will receive a percentage of the sales tax collections.


At a previous meeting between the two governments, Mayor H. Ford Gravitt said the city’s wish list of projects would tally about $33.6 million, which was not included in the county’s $200 million list.


Cumming’s list consists of a number of road projects and renovations to City Park.


Commissioner Patrick Bell said Thursday the city has agreed to take its percentage from the total projected collections minus the $100 million set aside for the courthouse and jail, for which Gravitt has agreed a need exists.


The county and city are expected to meet sometime this week to work on a finished project list.


The official project list and agreement with the city will need to be reached by July 7, County Attorney Ken Jarrard said.


The need for a new courthouse and larger jail, which officials have stressed at numerous meetings, could lead to bonding out those projects to start them before the tax revenue comes in.


All road projects included in the list were carried over from the county’s current sales tax program, for which revenue came in more than $30 million under the lowest projected estimate.


In addition to the animal shelter, the remaining $15 million included the following:


• $3.9 million for replacement of fire engines


• $2.8 million to renovate the Sharon Forks library


• $2.5 million for a study about expanding the administration building


• $2.4 million for parks and recreation


•$1 million for an emergency water generator.


The funding amounts are for planning purposes only, Jarrard said.


“Once we identify [projects] and use them as bases to incentivize voters to vote on them, we’re also stuck with them,” Jarrard said. “That means we have to build them.”


Commissioners approved the unofficial list in a 3-2 vote, with Pete Amos and Jim Boff opposed.


Amos voted against it due to an approval condition that the $9.4 million allocated for widening Castleberry Road may be reduced before the official list is approved.


Boff asked that the commission to consider adding $10 million to acquire Lanier Golf Course to green space for his district and avoid potential future litigation.


The county is in the process of a court-ordered rezoning of the property, following years of litigation.