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County approves new study for Sharon Springs
Forsyth County

If a new city does move ahead in south Forsyth, Forsyth County commissioners want to have updated information.

At a work session on Tuesday, commissioners voted 4-0, with the District 2 seat vacant, to have a study done on the proposed city of Sharon Springs in south Forsyth by Georgia State University.  The study will cost about $40,000, and a draft will be sent to county officials in December. 

“The truth of the matter is some of the same people who are saying don’t spend the money are the same ones screaming at us for transparency on other things,” said Chairman Todd Levent. “Now, they don’t want us to spend money on this, but this is just another level of transparency and everyone needs to know what the costs are going to be.”

Commissioners included in their motion that the findings of a study committee done by District 25 state Rep. Todd Jones, which are expected soon, be used in the study. 

The approximate boundaries of the proposed city are east of Ga. 400, south of Hwy. 20, west of the Chattahoochee River — already a boundary with Gwinnett County — and north of the Fulton County line.

Commissioners had a study done by Georgia Tech in 2015, but that study looked at a previous bill that considered Sharon Springs a “city light,” meaning the city could have just three services — zoning, sanitation and code enforcement.

The 2015 study found the county would save about $769,000 but would lose about $6.2 million in revenue if a city other than Cumming were in Forsyth.

The savings would come from expenses and the salaries and benefits of employees who handle code enforcement and zoning that would no longer be needed, while the lost revenue would be from alcohol licenses and excise taxes, cable franchise fees, planning and zoning, insurance premiums and business licenses and occupation taxes.

If the current bill, House Bill 626, introduced by Jones in March, is approved the city will begin with three services but will not be limited. Part of the bill involves the committee looking at the factors of cityhood.

County Attorney Ken Jarrard said the new study “is not terribly unlike” the Georgia Tech study.

“It’s not a feasibility study, it’s a financial impact study that is intended to assess the impact, financially maybe, if in fact Sharon Springs, as proposed, came into existence,” Jarrard said.

District 2 Commissioner Laura Semanson, whose district would be impacted by the new city, raised concerns on the cost of study and the need to do another one.

“I’m not saying we shouldn’t do it; I’m just thinking the proposal of the city as it stands right now, other than some language, has not changed as far as the scope, so it seems like we’re looking to reinvent the wheel on simply some updates,” Semanson said. “I question the cost of it being more than the original study was.”

One issue raised by commissioners was a 2015 law that new municipalities have to take over county roads unless there is an agreement. Jarrard said he believes those in favor of cityhood are “automatically assuming an [agreement] will be done.”

“I think that’s a false assumption,” said County Manager Eric Johnson. “I think that at minimum they should look at the implications with and without the transfer of road maintenance. Given the situation this board would be in, losing significant revenue to a new city, I don’t know that that’s a fair assumption.”

Impact fees, which are assessed on new construction, an upcoming special one-cent sales tax (SPLOST VIII, impacts on water and sewer and other financial impacts were raised at the meeting. 

To become a city, the bill must pass both chambers of the Georgia General Assembly and be approved by voters who live in the boundaries in 2018. 

The University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government was considered to do the study but the school opted not to as it previously did a viability study on the proposed city in 2015 for the Sharon Springs Alliance, a group favoring cityhood. That study found the city was viable.