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Meeting on map turns to tax hike
Residents question need to raise rate
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Forsyth County News
A town hall forum on Forsyth County’s proposed character area map turned to discussion of the county’s biggest impending issue: setting the millage rate.

Commissioner Patrick Bell called the meeting in north Forsyth on Monday to field residents’ questions about the map, which describes community characteristics of the county’s geographic areas.

Most of the meeting, however, was spent discussing the county’s budget with about 40 residents who attended.

Commissioners are expected to set the millage rate Thursday night following a final public hearing on the matter.

At the more informal town hall meeting, people were able to ask questions of Bell, something not allowed during the public hearings, the first two of which were last week.

Bell took several questions, including issues regarding the sheriff’s office and Lanier Golf Course, as well as the costs of health care costs and parks and recreation.

All the questions pointed to the same concern, whether the county was spending taxpayer money wisely.

While Bell told attendees there could be places government could cut spending, he pointed to the state legislature in Atlanta and U.S. Congress for the majority of the county’s increased costs.

“They claim at the Gold Dome that they were very proud they didn’t have to raise taxes,” said Bell, listing off increased state fees and mandates.

He also told residents that the national Healthcare Reform Act will cost the county an additional $2.2 million, which is added on to employee’s wages in the budget.

Attendees asked why government can’t spend within its revenue, much like households and businesses.

“Government is not business,” Bell said. “We are mandated to provide certain services. At home, you’re not mandated to keep cable. You’re not mandated to take a vacation.”

Residents also questioned Bell on the sheriff’s office budget.

One Tea Party member said she heard at a debate that Sheriff Ted Paxton had declined an hour and wage survey of his office, something Bell confirmed was Paxton’s right as a constitutional officer.

“The only time [the sheriff’s office] budget is ours is the day we set the budget,” Bell said.

As possible areas to cut costs, residents pointed to the number of new vehicles the office has, as well as the fact deputies can drive the cars home at night.

“It’s like standard issue,” Stuart McMinn said. “You get a gun, a belt, a badge and a car.”

McMinn, a member of the Forsyth County Tea Party, noted several other expenses he saw as unnecessary, including the county’s three libraries.

With all that spending, he said, he couldn’t believe there wasn’t more savings to cover difficult economic times.

“Hindsight’s 20/20. The commission should have focused on having a more generous surplus,” he said. “Rainy days come.”

Several attendees also looked toward the county’s parks as an unnecessary expense.

David Richard, a former county commissioner, suggested charging fees to use parks or higher fees for those involved in athletics on the park

“I love having the parks, but you know what, I don’t get much of a chance to use them,” he said. “All the organized teams ... are taking up the fields all the time, but they’re not paying their freight.”

Revenue suggestions aside, Bell also named some places he felt the county could cut costs, including animal control, code enforcement and cutting grass along roadsides.

“But you can’t go too far because then you start affecting property values and then y’all are going to be mad,” he said. “It’s a very difficult thing to balance.”

At the end of the meeting, Bell was asked to forecast what millage rate the commissioners may set.

“It’s going to need to go up slightly,” he said. “I believe we can get by with one [mill] or less than one.”

A mill is equal to $1 for each $1,000 in assessed property value. Assessed value is 40 percent of actual market value.

Those at the meeting also were able to view the first draft of the county’s proposed character area map.

The more general map will be used to create the future development map, which will dictate types of businesses or communities that can be built in a certain area.

Possible categories include development corridor, village living and heavy industrial.

The character area map is a new requirement of the state’s Department of Community Affairs.

“I believe it’s a much better tool,” Bell said. “People buying homes will know what’s going to be there. It won’t be a surprise to anyone.”