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Possibility of creating new city stirs discussion
A town hall meeting to discuss local governance issues drew a large crowd to the cafeteria at Lambert High School on Tuesday night. Some attendees like the idea of creating a second city, which would be located in south Forsyth, while others were interested in possibly consolidating the Cumming and Forsyth County governments. - photo by Micah Green

SOUTH FORSYTH — More than 200 Forsyth residents, many of whom voiced concern about disenfranchisement and the county’s future, gathered Tuesday night to discuss possible plans of action.

A central topic of the town hall meeting at Lambert High was examining the feasibility of forming a city, the county’s second, in south Forsyth.

While the local governance structure was the general topic, the proposed city, tentatively called Sharon Springs, stirred the most contention.

District 25 state Rep. Mike Dudgeon, a Republican from south Forsyth, was the event’s host. Echoing a mid-August editorial he wrote for the Forsyth County News, Dudgeon said the county stands apart from the 12 others in Georgia that boast a population of at least 150,000.

According to Dudgeon, Forsyth is the only one structured with five district-elected county commissioners, five city councilmen and a mayor. The other counties are consolidated, have more county commissioners or additional cities.

Dudgeon said he has heard through surveys and word of mouth that a large number of south Forsyth residents have stopped believing the county government works for — or listens — to them. Their top three concerns are rapid development, traffic and crowding of schools.

Dudgeon said he believes a second city could curb those growth issues, but acknowledged that the quality of schooling, low taxes and parks and recreational opportunities would likely remain reasons to move to Forsyth.

Citing a survey that found 74 percent of respondents thought the county would be worse off in five years, he added that residents and governments cannot look at the past as a predictor of the future.

Dudgeon said he spearheaded a feasibility study to determine costs a practicality of forming a new city. The study would be conducted by a neutral party, the Carl Vinson Institute of the University of Georgia.

Stephen Newman, a founder of the Sharon Springs Alliance, said the nonprofit has to raise $30,000 for the study. The effort began in mid-summer and is two-thirds of the way to that goal.

The study would look at what services a city would provide to the area that would then no longer be provided by the county.

Sharon Springs would be a “city-light” in that only three services likely would come from it: code enforcement, planning and zoning and solid waste disposal.

Modeling nine recently formed cities in Georgia, the creation of Sharon Springs would not necessarily mean tax increases, Newman said.

“There’d be no duplication of services [or government],” he said, “we’d just be bringing some of it local.”

Jim Warner was not convinced a second city was the answer.

Warner, who wrote a response to Rep. Dudgeon’s FCN column this summer, said he agrees some change to government should occur. While he is not opposed to seeing where improvements can be made, a second city may not be the answer because taxes are low.

“I’m just not sure how much better it’s going to get,” he said.

Other concerns — administrative experience, unmanaged growth during an extended timeline to gain political support and the bill clearing the Georgia General Assembly — led to other discussions, as did the financing of initial municipal operations.

One option, the possible consolidation of Cumming and Forsyth County, could be modeled after the success of similar efforts in Macon and Athens.

With the merge, there could be an additional commissioner, a county chair and vice chair who could alleviate concerns of lack of representation. To do that, there must be joint passing votes in the legislature, city and county.

Additional commissioners could be added to the county commission. The local state legislative delegation (two senators and five representatives) must pass a change to the charter before a vote to change the makeup of the commission.

The county could work to return the ability for residents to vote for all commissioners instead of just the one in their district.

Throughout the meeting, the audience could text responses to poll questions that showed live results on a projector. Of the more than 200 in attendance, 71 said they supported some type of change to the county governance, three said maybe, and five said they did not want a change.