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Committee to oversee tax projects
Funding plan seen as key
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Forsyth County News

Other action

Also at Tuesday’s work session, Forsyth County commissioners:

• Approved the names for two south Forsyth green space parks as recommended by the parks and recreation board.

The Echols property will be called Haw Creek Park, and the Harrison property named Caney Creek Preserve.

The naming of the McClure property was delayed for two weeks for further consideration.

• Reviewed an update to the systemwide recreation master plan, which sets guidelines for parks and recreation through 2017.

Commissioners postponed accepting the plan to allow staff to do additional research on issues related to finances.

• Discussed the likely extension of the water contract between the city of Cumming and Forsyth County.

The county buys most of its water from the city, which has a permit to withdraw from Lake Lanier.

Commissioner Brian Tam agreed to meet with the water and sewer director to gather more information.

The commission will discuss the issue again at its next work session.

• Asked to hold a work session on Feb. 7 instead of Feb. 14, as originally scheduled.

• Set a Feb. 16 public hearing for proposed changes to the ethics ordinance, clarifying conflict of interest transactions.

• Reviewed an overview of potential changes to zoning procedures intended to streamline the process.

• Set public hearings for proposed changes to the unified development code that would alter the calculation for the requirement to connect to sewer, as well as eliminate the need for a water system for lots with approved groundwater wells.

Note: All votes 5-0 unless otherwise noted.

— Alyssa LaRenzie

A team of local government officials will oversee the construction of a new courthouse and jail expansion, which could get started in July.

Forsyth County commissioners voted 5-0 to create a nine-member committee to advise on the capital projects voters approved in the 1-cent sales tax extension last fall.

The team will include Commissioners Pete Amos and Todd Levent, as well as undetermined representatives from the city of Cumming, local courts and sheriff’s office.

Also on the panel will be representatives from the county finance and procurement departments, public facilities management and the county manager’s office.

The seventh round of the special purpose local option sales tax, or SPLOST, included an estimated $100 million for the jail and courthouse facilities, which will be built across from each other along East Maple Street in downtown Cumming.

Voters also approved the bonding of up to about $89 million for those projects to get started before the sales tax revenues are collected.

The current, sixth round of SPLOST will not expire until July 2013, at which point the seventh round will begin.

That tax extension expires July 2019, and current estimates project it will bring in about $203 million over the six-year span, said David Gruen, county finance director.

“With an expected receipt of proceeds to begin in August 2013, to continue this project from this point forward to construct the jail and courthouse, you need a funding plan, which means you need to borrow money,” Gruen said.

Based on a construction schedule starting this July, the county would need to borrow a minimum of $50 million to begin work before the sales tax revenue starts coming in, he said.

Gruen estimated the cost of borrowing the money at less than $5 million, with the bonds paid off by July 2019.

He added that securing a fixed-rate bond is a favorable option, since interest rates are lower than 2 percent.

The sample schedule indicates a 40-month project duration, ending in October 2015.

Based on the financing model proposed, funds for other approved projects are estimated to become available in July 2015.

An exception to that schedule is the county animal shelter, which commissioners have also indicated a desire to start sooner.

Gruen presented two options for funding the estimated $3 million project. They included borrowing from the county’s reserves or seeking a bond through the public facilities authority.

“This amount of money, I feel comfortable with out of the general fund,” said Gruen, who added that the reserves are about $4.5 million, above the county policy of keeping 25 percent of the budget total.

He presented a schedule for repaying the funds from reserves with interest, though at a lower rate than if borrowed from a bank.

The cost of borrowing ranged from $30,000 to $210,000, depending on the time of repayment.

An advisory committee has been meeting nearly every month for the past year to recommend the best courses of action for a county shelter, said Deputy County Manager Tim Merritt, a non-voting member of the group.

At this point, Merritt said the committee is hesitant to move any further until the commission determines when to fund construction.

Commissioners directed the county attorney to return at the next work session with a resolution allowing the money to be borrowed from reserves to get the project started with the best balance of interest payments and starting time.

Construction is anticipated to take 18 months, which would mean completion in fall 2013, if started this summer.