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Officials optimistic on outlook
Board talks issues with GOP women
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Forsyth County News

 

It was an early morning for Forsyth County’s commissioners.

The five elected officials touched on topics from the battle over Lanier Golf Course to an animal shelter and proposed jail expansion during a Republican Women of Forsyth County breakfast.

“I liked what I heard,” said Barbara Nalley, who attended the meeting with friends. “I’ve lived here my whole life and I agree it’s the best board [of commissioners] I’ve seen.”

Those who attended Saturday’s event appeared to agree with talk of a proposed 1-cent sales tax to fund a $100 million jail expansion and new courthouse downtown.

The remainder of the county’s $215 million share of the tax would go toward various transportation improvements, an animal shelter and other projects.

The city of Cumming, with which the county would share tax revenue, has a wish list of projects totaling about $33.6 million.

Commissioner Brian Tam said a referendum on the tax extension likely will be held in November, calling the need for a jail too important to delay.

The existing facility is small, old and crowded. With the county having to pay a premium to house prisoners in other facilities, Tam said something must be done.

“We spend about $2 million a year just farming them out,” he said. “It’s a very inefficient way and it’s a tremendous waste of taxpayer dollars.”

Tam also reassured those concerned the new jail would house inmates from other counties.

“We’re not getting into the jail-renting business,” he said.

Commissioner Patrick Bell said despite audience and constituent suggestions on location for a new jail, “I think the best location is where it’s at.”

“They’re not going to be industrial or institutional-style buildings,” Bell said. “We’re not building anything fancy, but they’re certainly not going to be anything that detracts from what a lot of people see as a quality downtown.”

One audience member asked if the November ballot would also contain a separate referendum on allowing stores in the county to sell alcohol on Sundays, sparking much conversation.

The commissioners appeared in favor of putting the issue before voters, but reluctant to do so in the fall.

Tam said it’s not off the table, just a matter maybe for the November 2012 election.

“We have more opportunities next year because it’s an election year,” he said.

But Commissioner Todd Levent said he didn’t want to lose out on possible revenue.

“If [people are] going to go outside the county and buy it, I’d rather keep the tax dollars here,” he said.

Levent took the lead on the issue of the county building and operating an animal shelter. It currently contracts for the service.

He fielded questions on why the projected cost had risen from $2 million to $2.9 million, saying the county needed to do things right the first time.

“What I have gathered … is there were multiple bids done at the time, done without any specifications, which is not typically done,” Levent said. “I visited different counties and how they did things and learn their mistakes.

“That money also includes all the cages and everything in there. The desks, everything you need to run the whole operation … it’s not just the shelter. It’s also got money in there for the animal control vehicles.”

Commissioner Jim Boff addressed the future of the Lanier Golf Course, thanking Tam for his help in working to resolve litigation that began in 2007.

The county is in the process of determining a court-ordered rezoning of the 172-acre site off Buford Dam Road. The new deadline, extended last week, is July 7.

The commission likely will vote to zone a 60- to 65-acre portion of the property to allow for a continuing care community.

In exchange, Boff said, the course owners are “willing to give up about 110 or [115] acres that will be used either as a golf course, if somebody can operate it as such, or it will be green space which the county will maintain.”

The deal is contingent upon the 128 neighboring homeowners signing an agreement to drop or not file suits against the developer, Tam said.

“We’re going to settle this four-year-old lawsuit soon,” said Commissioner Pete Amos.

Before the breakfast ended, Tam, the longest serving commissioner, said he’s pleased with the county’s outlook.

“We have a number of opportunities ahead of us and they take a unified front between [all governments],” Tam said. “I want to continue to strive toward stability in our government.”