Forsyth County government may commission new Sharon Springs study
Bill filed in March brought proposed city back to table

Now that a new bill has brought back the possibility of a second city in Forsyth County, county commissioners are considering a new study on the impacts it would have on the county.

The Board of Commissioners discussed having the new study done by Alfie Meek, director of the innovation strategy and impact team at Georgia Tech, on the financial impact of the city of Sharon Springs and decided to bring it up again in July. District 25 state Rep. Todd Jones introduced House Bill 626 a bill to begin the cityhood process in March.

A similar bill was filed in 2015, and at that time commissioners hired Meek to do a financial impact study. A new study is needed because, unlike the previous bill, HB 626 is being proposed as a full city.

“It is markedly different from the last iteration of Sharon Springs in that the first iteration was a so-called city light, wherein the charter attempted to limit the city to three powers,” County Attorney Ken Jarrard said. “HB 626 is actually a full-service city, meaning it would have all of the powers under the home rule provisions of the Georgia Constitution, which is appropriate.”

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.

The previous bill outlined the city only offering zoning, sanitation and code enforcement. Under Jones’s bill, the city would begin with three services but would not be limited.

Which three services the city would begin with will come from a study committee headed by Jones and made up of elected officials and residents from across the county, not just the proposed area of Sharon Springs. The group will begin meeting this summer.

The bill also says the city’s millage rate “shall not exceed 0.5 mills,” and the city will be able to assess, levy and collect an ad valorem tax on all real and personal property to offset government costs, payment on general obligations and other purposes as decided by the city.

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. No action will be taken this year.

I, for one, have never known of any government or egos within government that don’t want to grow and have more power.
Todd Levent, chairman, Forsyth County Board of Commissioners

Jarrard said the previous study is not going to have “as much application” based on the new law and that he has been in contact with Meek, who said the study would cost about $45,000.

“Because he doesn’t know exactly where this city would come in on what services they would try to provide, he would run a model of very few services, a middle tier and then a full, robust municipality,” Jarrard said.

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.

Jarrard said it would take Meek about four months to complete the new study.

A second study that was commissioned from the Carl Vinson Institute at the University of Georgia in 2015 by the Sharon Springs Alliance, a group favoring cityhood, found the city was feasible.

Commission Chairman Todd Levent, who has previously said he is neither for nor against the new cityhood and would leave the decision to voters, said he does think Sharon Springs would remain with only three services.

“It will be interesting to see what the other committee comes up with,” he said. “I, for one, have never known of any government or egos within government that don’t want to grow and have more power.”

District 5 Commissioner Laura Semanson, whose district would be affected, said she favors waiting until after the study committee has a recommendation.

“At this point, until Rep. Jones’ committee even comes back with their take on it, which has been a countywide sample of folks,” she said, “I think it’s premature to drop another $45,000 on it at this point in time.”