Forsyth County Commissioners have decided not to sign a letter agreeing not to raise taxes should a new city in south Forsyth become a reality.
At a work session on Tuesday, commissioners voted 3-2, with Commissioners Dennis Brown, of District 2, and Laura Semanson, of District 5, opposed, not to sign a pledge from the Sharon Springs Alliance to not raise taxes if the city of Sharon Springs is approved by voters on May 22.
“We all received a certified letter from, I guess it’s SSA, asking certain questions to us. One of them was do we plan on raising taxes if the city becomes a reality,” said Chairman Todd Levent. “For me, I didn’t want to answer anything. I’d rather [County Attorney Ken Jarrard] write it for me.”
Brown and Semanson, who voted in opposition, are the only commissioners who would have portions of their districts in the new city.
Semanson said she felt the request was proper since it was asking for the responses of individual commissioners rather than binding a future board, which is not allowed.
“I’ve been clear that incorporation is not going to force my hand one way or the other,” Semanson said. “I don’t have any intention of making any other statement than what I have.”
Jarrard said the letter asked “each board member make a binding pledge on behalf of the county government” to not increase the property tax millage rate.
In a responding letter, Jarrard said Forsyth County had a AAA bond rating, the highest available, and the officials had conservative principles.
“The board of commissioners does not, however, believe that making a taxation pledge impacting the future fiscal health and solvency of the county is appropriate when the information to responsibly make such a pledge is not before it,” Jarrard said.
Jarrard said the government goes through a budget process each year and said the guarantee was unenforceable and was not “the hallmark of a responsible government.”
He said while the county aims to keep taxes low, there is an expectation of services to the community, which require funding. He also referenced studies from Georgia Tech and Georgia State University which indicated the county could have a revenue shortfall between $6 million and $8 million.
“While individuals can debate the findings of those various reports, there can be no question that both reports concluded the creation of Sharon Springs would result in the loss of revenue to the county that may justify a county-wide millage change,” Jarrard said. “Such a finding is not unreasonable given the new city would include approximately 30 percent of the county population, 41 percent of the gross residential property value, 28 percent of the gross commercial property value and 20 percent of the gross industrial property value.”
Levent said he wanted to include language saying the proposed city could also raise taxes.
“I still would like to remind them, since it is from the group that’s pushing the city, that their own bill for legislation has gone to allow their own city to by home rule have that ability as well,” Levent said. “So, it’s not just us they need to be worried about, if that’s truly their concern.”
Prior to the vote, Jarrard said he was comfortable with using county letterhead for a unanimous vote, but “if it doesn’t get supported [unanimously], we’ll have to figure out a different, alternative delivery system.”
If approved, Sharon Springs would begin with three services — zoning, sanitation and code enforcement — and would have a millage rate capped at 0.5 mills. One mill equals $1 for every $1,000 in assessed property value, which is 40 percent of the actual market value.
The approximate boundaries of the proposed city are east of Ga. 400 except the portion west of McFarland Road; south of Hwy. 20 except for areas in the city of Cumming; west of the Chattahoochee River — already a boundary with Gwinnett County — and north of the Fulton County line.
To pass, the bill will need the support of at least 57.5 percent of voters, a compromise between a simple majority and two-thirds majority.
The city would be home to about 50,000 residents.