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Commissioners talk Cumming, Forsyth consolidation
Mayor ‘adamantly against hostile takeover’

In recent years, residents in Forsyth County have discussed adding a potential new city in south Forsyth, but an official discussion this week hinted at a single government in the county, rather than a county and two cities.

At Tuesday’s work session, Forsyth County commissioners voted to postpone a resolution requesting the county’s legislative delegation take a look at consolidating the city of Cumming and Forsyth County governments for two weeks in order to first meet with city officials.

Several officials spoke prior to the meeting with Forsyth County News about the proposed plan.

“We could do so much together and have so much more if we joined together,” said District 4 Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills. “It just makes a whole lot of sense.”

To become a reality, the local delegation would have to draft and pass a bill that would be signed by the governor and approved by local voters. It is not clear how the new government would be set up.

“This will all depend on if the legislature will go forward with it … but it could be a real game-changer for our county,” Mills said.

At the meeting, County Attorney Ken Jarrard said the proposal was “ambitious but could lead to discussion among lawmakers.”

It doesn’t appear though the city has the same level of interest in the proposal — at least, not newly-elected Mayor Troy Brumbalow.

“[I] would be adamantly against the hostile takeover of the city of Cumming,” Brumbalow said before the meeting. “I’ve heard rumblings [about consolidation], but the city has absolutely zero interest in consolidating into the county.”

Forsyth County Chairman Todd Levent, however, said he is interested in consolidation because he believes it will save taxpayers money in the long run by joining departments operated by both governments and could eliminate legal fees accrued when trying to reach agreements between the two.

“When we had negotiations over LOST and SPLOST (taxes), it was about six months of mediation, attorneys involved, having to hire mediators. It’s very expensive, and the citizens pay for that,” Levent said. “Every time you add another city, you’re going to add another session of these negotiations, and the citizens pay for that.”

Levent said law enforcement is another area where citizens are receiving duplicate services.

“The county citizens are already footing that bill because our sheriff’s office — in the 90-percent range or probably that — is backing them up on all their calls,” he said. “Whether it is an accident beyond a fender bender or a very minor citation, we back them up on everything.”

Brumbalow said at the meeting city voters – who would have to approve the referendum before it went to a second, county-wide vote – would also be against it.

“I don’t think the residents of the city of Cumming are going to be for it,” Brumbalow said. “While it is certainly y’all’s right to pass the resolution and I have no problem with y’all doing that, I think I know our population enough to know where they’re going to stand on it.”

Brumbalow said near end of the discussion he would be open to meeting with county officials

Councilwoman Linda Ledbetter, who was in the audience for Tuesday’s meeting, said she was also against the proposal and did not appreciate how the matter was presented.

“I think for you to be this condescending to the city of Cumming is a slap in the face,” she said. “I think it’s awful.”

Though Mills and Levent supported the plan, others commissioners had issues with the proposal.

District 5 Commissioner Laura Semanson said at the meeting there should have been more discussions or a plan in place before the item was brought up to be sent to lawmakers.

“The way that this appears to be worded right now, we are asking for consolidation rather than having a detailed plan of what that looks like,” she said. “So, I don’t know that we’ve had enough internal discussion to understand how that looks and what all the implications are.”

Requesting that local political parties include a non-binding straw poll regarding consolidation on the ballot for this year’s primaries was also discussed.

Mills said another positive would be that consolidated governments get the best of both worlds when it comes to rules for city and county governments.

“When you become a consolidated government, you get to choose whatever benefits the most,” she said. “So, if it’s franchise fees that don’t get to be collected in counties because that’s how they wrote it … you get to be the city and you get to do the franchise fees … Whatever issue you might come up with, if it benefits you more to be the county, you can be the county. If it benefits you more to be the city, which is most of the time the case, [you get to be the city.]”

Both Mills and Levent said it was preferable to discuss consolidation now than if the proposed city of Sharon Springs was approved, which both have maintained would cost taxpayers more in the long run.

“We’re Republicans,” Mills said. “Republicans are supposed to be for less government, not more government. And, we know if the new city is created, you’ll just have more of the redundancy of services, then all of a sudden you have to do agreements for everything.”

Mills said if Sharon Springs is approved it could start a chain-reaction of pushes for other new municipalities coming to the county.

“We’ll become a Gwinnett or a DeKalb or a Fulton in the blink of an eye,” Mills said. “Then, we won’t have the opportunity to look at, ‘was there a better way? Would consolidation have been better?’ Now’s just a good time.”

After holding numerous meetings over the summer, a committee formed called for by House Bill 626 — which was introduced by District 25 state Rep. Todd Jones and  began the process for cityhood — recommended allowing those living in the area of the proposed the city of Sharon Springs vote on the matter, which must receive at least 57.5 percent of the vote — also a recommendation from the committee — to pass.

It will need to pass both houses of the Georgia General Assembly and be signed by Gov. Nathan Deal to go to voters. If passed, the referendum will be held in May 2018.

Those who voiced concerns about the proposed consolidation said it was not a given the new city would happen.

Throughout the process, Levent has said he believes the costs associated with the new city are higher than supporters have stated and a new city would have even more redundant services and costs to all taxpayers living in the county.

“If it doesn’t create any additional services, why would anybody want to spend additional money?” he said. “Same thing when you go to a store or restaurant; you’re not going to pay more money for something if it’s not getting you anything extra. Why would you?”