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Constructive session sought on sales tax
Town hall meeting set for Thursday
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Forsyth County News

If you go

* What: SPLOST town hall meeting

* When: 4:30 p.m. Thursday

* Where: Forsyth County Administration Building, Commissioners’ Meeting Room, 110 E. Main St., Cumming

In what’s likely a first-time event, Forsyth County commissioners will hold a town hall meeting Thursday to give the public a chance to learn about and comment on a proposed tax extension.

If approved by voters, possibly this fall, the special purpose local option sales tax, or SPLOST, is a 1-cent tax that would go toward a list of capital improvement projects.

Commissioner Patrick Bell said the meeting will give residents a chance to have a dialogue with officials, as opposed to a formal public hearing, in which residents speak and commissioners only listen.

"This will be an opportunity for people to ask a question and get an answer," said Bell, adding that he will stop the event if it becomes "a bashing session" rather than a constructive gathering.

Bell said the town hall meeting was requested recently by the executive committee of the Forsyth County Republican Party.

He couldn’t recall a meeting of this type having previously been held on the sales tax.

The tax, which has been in effect since 1983, has funded many projects, including roadwork, park community buildings and fire stations, according to the county’s Web site.

Forsyth County and the city of Cumming have put together a project list for the next round of the tax, which is projected to bring in about $200 million over a six-year period.

The current round sales tax program will expire in June 2013, but could be extended to 2019 with voter approval.

The city and the county have been working toward an agreement on how to split the tax revenue, which must be settled to receive six years of collections rather than five.

As proposed, $100 million collected would go toward funding a new courthouse and a jail expansion and another $1 million would fund an emergency water generator.

Aside from the $101 million, the county would receive 87.5 percent of the tax and the city 12.5 percent.

The split of the money was one of the main reasons resident Richard Ward suggested the governments be transparent in the process and allow input.

Ward, who is also first vice chairman of the local Republican Party, asked the commission in mid-June to give the public time to review the proposal.

"In the past, a lot of people have voiced opinions on the split between the city and the county," he said Friday.

"I thought it was important this time for the citizens to have the opportunity to voice their opinion before the commissioners gave their final opinion."

Though he had hoped the information would be released earlier to the public, Ward said he’s pleased there will be a forum.

Personally, he likes the split that’s been proposed, but he’s passionate about providing this "ease of access" for voters to get information.

"Our goal is to get the room full of concerned citizens and give them the opportunity to voice their opinions to commissioners," Ward said. "And if that happens, I’ll consider this project a win."

In Ward’s written event announcement, he asked that residents keep their input "constructive," as Bell had requested.

During Tuesday’s commission meeting, Bell was vocal about the need to grant the requested town hall meeting before making a final vote on the agreement with the city.

"I think people have concerns about the project list and the split between the county and the city," he said later.

"There may have been some issues before, but I truly believe that it’s not an issue today. I think the split’s a very fair split."

Commissioners plan to vote on the intergovernmental agreement, as well as the election resolution, during Thursday’s meeting.

The agenda for a special called work session Monday states the commission will discuss and possibly approve a project list, which has twice gone up to vote.

Chairman Brian Tam said it’s unlikely the list will change.

"I think we need some clarification on the priorities for some of these projects," Tam said.

Aside from the courthouse and jail, other county projects include an animal shelter, library expansion, park improvements, new fire trucks and transportation projects.

In the agreement, the city’s list includes an estimated $7 million for park and recreation projects and about $5.5 million for road improvements.

"SPLOST has proven to be an effective tool for funding projects in the past," Tam said. "This is a continuation of the one penny tax. It’s not a new tax."