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County to shave $5M from budget
Sheriff requests move; county to shift funds
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Forsyth County News

Also at a Thursday meeting, the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners:

• Held a public hearing on a request by the Ryland Group to amend zoning conditions and receive setback variances to complete a 30-lot subdivision on Stoney Point Road. The board delayed a decision on the application until Oct. 18 to allow the developer and neighbors to finalize the agreed upon conditions.

• Modified the definition of a “lot” in the county’s unified development code to a simplified version. The changes remove the deduction of easements and narrow strips in calculating lot size. Three spoke in favor of the new definition during the public hearing.

• Reduced the five-year alcohol license disqualification period to zero days for the Alpharetta Food Mart to allow the new business owner to apply for a license. The prior owner had his license revoked after three underage sales violations, which triggers the disqualification period.

• Delayed a decision to Nov. 1 on changing the named alcohol licensee at Citgo at Cumming Square after finding that the current license holder had two prior underage sales violations. A third could lead to the license being revoked, but a change in name starts the count over.

The board delayed the change to give the business time to explain the need for the change. Commissioners plan to address this issue and others in an upcoming revamp of the full alcohol code.

• Postponed the second public hearing and possible vote on changes to the county ethics ordinance to Nov. 1. The modifications seek to replace the current five-member system of local representatives to a three-member panel of out-of-county attorneys pulled from a pool when a complaint or other issue arises.

• Moved two public hearings on zoning condition amendments for Sobh Automotive of Cumming to Oct. 18. Attorney Ethan Underwood said the business did not receive the addresses of all adjacent property owners from the county and needed additional time to reach out to them.

The changes seek to modify conditions to allow for a car dealership on Hwy. 20.

Note: All votes were 4-0, with Commissioner Brian Tam absent, unless otherwise noted. Tam was present for the start of the meeting.

— Alyssa LaRenzie

Forsyth County commissioners requested only one change to the proposed 2013 budget presented on Thursday night: Move about $5 million out of the sheriff’s office budget.

The reduction from about $36.6 million to $31.6 million came at the request of Sheriff Ted Paxton, said county finance director David Gruen.

Commissioners followed the staff recommendation to move the difference into a special reserve account rather than put the money elsewhere, since the 2013 general fund budget has already been balanced.

“The board could entertain any requests in whatever amount for any purpose to move [all] or portions of that $5 million back to the sheriff’s budget,” Gruen said. “This just sets up the vehicle, if you will, so that this can be accomplished.”

The deduction in the sheriff’s budget doesn’t affect the overall proposed 2013 general fund of about $89.6 million.

Commissioners are scheduled to vote Oct. 18 on adopting the budget.

Sheriff Ted Paxton said Friday that the $5 million deduction was made in response to “the will of the people.”

Paxton, who has served three terms, was defeated in the August primary runoff by Duane Piper.

Piper, a Republican, faces no Democratic opposition Nov. 6, though he is being challenged by write-in candidate D.T. Smith.

Paxton said in the Republican race, Piper campaigned that he would reduce the budget by $5 million.

“If he’s quoting a dollar figure, then he must have a plan,” Paxton said. “I’m just turning over the budget to him which he said he needed.”

Paxton said he didn’t identify where the $5 million reduction would come from in the line-item budget.

Piper said Friday that he found the request “odd.”

“He set a budget for the agency the way he has it set up,” he said. “I don’t remember him ever going back and asking for a reduction in the budget.”

Piper said to determine where the budget cuts will come from, he will first do “a full comprehensive audit of the sheriff’s office spending, which will be one of my first priorities after getting into office.”

On Friday, Gruen said the current office had recommended removal of all budgeted overtime, $836,000, and all inmate out-of-county housing, $2.6 million.

He said funding for 18 vacant positions, totaling $1,278,000, was also removed, as well as a $300,000 reduction in gasoline costs, originally proposed at about $1.1 million.

Of the reserve account proposed by commissioners, Paxton said: “That’s certainly their option.”

The board voted 4-0, with Commissioner Brian Tam absent, to move the funds into a reserve.

“I think it would be responsible for us to set it aside,” said Commissioner Todd Levent.

Tam was in attendance during the budget presentation, but left prior to the vote on the reserve account.

Overall, Tam praised staff for their work in preparing the 2013 proposal.

“We’re in great shape financially because, No. 1, we have great people managing this,” he said. “That’s very comforting that we can make decisions based on accurate information.”

The 2013 general fund, proposed at about $89.6 million, appears as a 3-percent decrease from the 2012 budget of about $92.4 million.

However, due to some changes in accounting, Gruen said the budget is comparably a 3-percent increase, or about $3.3 million more than in 2012.

In July, the commission approved to keep the property tax rate the same as in 2012, but the increase in revenue is due primarily to more sales tax income projected in 2013.