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County signals it's time for LOST
Will renegotiate sales tax with city
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Forsyth County News

Other action

Also during their work session Tuesday, Forsyth County commissioners:

• Heard a report on the 2011 audit. Auditors from Mauldin & Jenkins issued a “clean opinion” on the county’s accounting.

Final totals show the county’s reserves totaled about $36 million at the end of 2011, which is about $12 million above the county’s policy to keep 25 percent of the general fund budget in reserves.

• Discussed whether to return the 401k for employees to a 5 percent contribution or to offer a 1 percent cost-of-living adjustment and return the 401k from 3 percent to 4 percent. The commission requested that department directors ask what their employees would prefer.

• Directed the county attorney to discuss the possibility of leasing parking spots at Old Atlanta Park to Lambert High School students through the Forsyth County school system.

The vote was 3-2, with Commissioners Brian Tam and Pete Amos opposed. They wanted the county attorney to draft a lease agreement for individuals rather than go through the school district.

• Reviewed the proposed modifications to the Forsyth County Solid Waste Ordinance, which would require haulers to register with the county.

The commission also discussed whether to levy fees with discounts for businesses in the county, those who offer recycling and those who use the Eagle Point Landfill, which pays host fees to the county.

The issue was postponed for further review until July 10.

• Approved a lease contract with Full House LLC for 1,850 square feet of office space in a building on Tribble Gap Road for nearly $1,600 per month, all-inclusive. The space will be used for the health department’s environmental health division.

• Gave approval for the fire department to buy three vehicles for $120,000, to come from fire fund reserves. The cars will be for two battalion chiefs and one fire marshal.

• Amended an agreement with the state Department of Transportation for the Hwy. 20 widening project that would transfer cost responsibility for utility replacements to the DOT for an estimated $500,000 savings to Forsyth.

• Granted permission for the parks and recreation department to make a bid for the 2014 Amateur Softball Association Championship Tournament. The Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce will cover the costs of travel to make the bid presentation.

If selected as host, the economic impact to the county is expected to offset any expenses to the parks department.

• Ratified a settlement agreement with James and William Salmond for a civil suit involving a dispute about stormwater runoff causing property damage.

The county will pay $15,000, or about 18 percent of the total settlement. Parties the county had indemnity agreements with will pay the remainder of the $82,000.

• Appointed Jerry Adams to serve as the citizen stakeholder on the Forsyth County 911 Center Advisory Commission.

Note: All votes were 5-0 unless otherwise noted.

— Alyssa LaRenzie

Negotiations for a sales tax split between Forsyth County and the city of Cumming likely will officially commence this week.

County commissioners voted 5-0 on Tuesday to send the required letters notifying the city and the state revenue commissioner that Forsyth wants to trigger the formal renegotiation process for the 1-cent local option sales tax, or LOST.

The tax, which was approved by referendum in 1976, is separate from SPLOST, or the special purpose local option sales tax that voters extended earlier this year.

LOST money goes into the county’s general fund, while SPLOST revenue can be used only for projects voters approve via a referendum. There’s also a separate 1-cent special purpose local option sales tax for education.

Once every 10 years, Forsyth and Cumming must determine a split of the LOST revenue based primarily on the services each government provides, according to a presentation by County Attorney Ken Jarrard earlier in the year.

The current split, negotiated in 2002, allots 85 percent of the revenue to the county and 15 percent to the city.

In 2011, the tax brought in about $24.8 million for the county’s general fund, according to figures from the county’s finance department.

LOST is projected to draw about $26.1 million in 2012, or nearly 27 percent of the county’s budget.

After the meeting, Commission Chairman Jim Boff said the sales tax’s purpose is to “roll back property taxes.”

“If you don’t [have LOST], then it’s likely property taxes would have to change to accommodate that loss in revenue,” Boff said.

The split, he said, will be determined by the cost and value of services each government provides.

To begin the process, staff from the county and the city will meet to discuss those issues, Boff said, though he wasn’t sure exactly how the negotiations will be handled from there.

“My guess is that as progress is made or not made that [staff] will bring those issues before the board,” he said. “That doesn’t rule out that there may be direct meetings between the mayor or his designees and the county, but that remains to be seen.”

If an agreement can’t be reached between the two entities within 60 days of initiating the negotiations, the dispute will go to nonbinding mediation, according to the presentation.

If that process isn’t successful after 60 days, then either party can ask the court to choose a proposal.

The split must be filed with the state by Dec. 31, or the tax will be discontinued.

The first meeting for the negotiations is set for 10 a.m. Friday, according to a letter to Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt from Forsyth County Manager Doug Derrer.

“Forsyth County would respectfully request that a representative of the city of Cumming be available for a preliminary renegotiation meeting with senior county staff,” Derrer wrote.

By mailing the letter before the July 1 deadline, the county will receive the first offer in the negotiations.