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Commission holds first public hearing on new economic development ordinance

For months, the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce, Forsyth County and Forsyth County Development Authority have partnered for a new economic development plan, and the county will likely soon adopt a new economic development ordinance to go with it.

Forsyth County Commissioners held the first public hearing on the ordinance on Thursday, where county officials and those in attendance also heard an update of the plan and gave input.

The plan lays out that the county economic development director – a new position overseen by the county manager, which Vivian Vakili has held since December – will assist in implementing the economic development plan, work with the other bodies to bring in business and offer inducements, which are subject to final approval by the county manager and board of commissioners.

Those inducements include total or partial waivers of impact fees, fee credits toward the county’s zoning process, acceleration of the zoning process, construction of infrastructure and tax abatement, including possible school tax abatement if approved by the Forsyth County Board of Education for “an extraordinary project.”

Under the plan, the chamber will seek out prospective businesses for the area.

“Basically, what it anticipates is that there is an open invitation for the chamber of commerce to continuously bring to the county economic opportunities and to compare them with their schedule of criteria, talk about their financial impacts, talk about their eligibility under this ordinance and talk about whether we need to use some of these … weapons that we have,” said County Attorney Ken Jarrard.

District 4 Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills said she was against a portion of the ordinance that required the chamber to make sure businesses were in compliance with development contracts and said she would like to see the plan include some measure to hold companies accountable for the amount of jobs they promise to bring to the county.

“Who’s going to going to go back and check to see if they really produced 1,100 jobs, and when are those jobs coming online, and when is that actually coming to be?” Mills said. “If it winds up being 100 jobs instead of 1,100, I don’t think the Chamber is going to come in and say, ‘Hey guys, I got that wrong.’ I don’t think that’s going to happen, and I feel like if we’re going to up the county’s money and keep upping the county’s money, we need to have accountability, and that should come through the county.”

The other four commissioners gave direction to Jarrard to make the change.

“I agree with what Commissioner Mills is saying on this,” said District 1 Commissioner Molly Cooper. “Bottom line, the money comes from the county, it comes from taxpayers.”