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Potential tobacco ban at parks and other items from this week’s BOC meeting
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New rules aimed at curbing tobacco use at Forsyth County parks could be adopted, though officials said enforcement might be an issue.

At a regular meeting on Thursday, Forsyth County Commissioners held a public hearing but could not take action on a new rule prohibiting all tobacco use – including smoking, vaping and smokeless tobacco – from county parks. The prohibition will also include tobacco use inside cars on the property.

“One thing that our board would like to stress that we kept going back and forth on is the enforcement of this policy,” said Gary Cooper, chairman of Forsyth County’s Parks and Recreation Board. “We don’t think it is right that our staff at the parks, the ones who work day and night, be the ones enforcing this. It needs to have some law enforcement backing behind it, and right now we only have four park rangers for our entire parks and rec system.”

Cooper said he had heard from some athletic booster clubs that the ban could impact volunteers.

When District 4 Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills said “80 percent” of men’s softball players appeared to use dip or otherwise use smokeless tobacco, Cooper joked it was “closer to 100 [percent.]”

“The other thing I would like to add about the chewing tobacco: it’s not just the adult softball players that we were worried about, it’s the coaches in youth rec sports that are out in the field doing the chewing tobacco, smokeless tobacco on the field with impressionable 6-, 7-, 8-, 9-, 10-year-old kids,” Cooper said. “That was really where our heart was when it came to a complete tobacco [ban,] worrying about the youth athletics.”

Melissa Clink, speaking in her individual capacity, said she felt the ban went too far and that smoking in vehicles should be allowed.

“I oppose the proposal because I think that adults are able to make decisions for themselves, and I also think it’s a very bad idea to use police to enforce this. I don’t think that’s what we need police to do,” she said.

District 3 Commissioner Todd Levent said he felt the ban should go forward to not expose children to tobacco use.

“At some point, we’re putting impressions on our children, and these parks are designed for families,” Levent said. “The families involve a lot of children, and at what point do you expose them to something maybe they shouldn’t be exposed to. Are we still in the 1960s when you could blow smoke in your kid's face or your neighbor’s kid’s face next to us? How is that acceptable?”

The tobacco issue was one of several items discussed at the meeting. All other items were approved by a 5-0 vote unless otherwise noted.

Millage rates

During Thursday’s meeting and at a special called meeting on Thursday morning, the commission held two public hearings for the proposed 2020 millage rates, though residents did not speak at either public hearing.

While the budget is increasing, the millage rate is expected to stay the same at a total county rate of 7.936 mills, the same as 2019, but the makeup of the rate will change.

The millage rate is the formula that calculates property taxes. One mill equals $1 for every $1,000 in assessed property value, which is 40 percent of the actual market value.

The 2020 rate will be comprised of a 4.791 millage rate for maintenance and operations, a 2.175 fire rate and 0.970 rate for general obligations bond compared to rates of 4.642, 1.975 and 1.319 in 2019, respectively.

Along with the tentative millage rate of the Forsyth County school system, 19.718 mills, the total 2020 rate will be 27.654.

Though the mileage rate is not going up, the tax digest will increase this year due to increases in home valuations.

The 2020 budget will increase from the 2019 budget of $138.7 million to $148.1 million.

No action was taken at the meeting, and a final public hearing will be held on Thursday, July 18, at 6 p.m., when action can be taken.

Alcohol codes

New changes were also discussed for the alcohol code.

Changes include:

- adding a definition for micro-distilleries;

- removing a prohibition on tying rent to alcohol sales for all businesses except those “selling distilled spirits by the package;”

- allowing alcohol sales in certain prohibited zoning districts unless approved by commissioners as an exemption as part of an economic development agreement;

- removing rules that require restaurant patios and open where customers can buy alcoholic beverages that are “not visible from the exterior” of the building;

- and removing rules that a business must be open within six months of receiving an alcohol license.

There were no speakers during the public hearing, and no action was taken.

Southeast Forsyth Design standards

Commissioners heard an update to design standards for homes in southeast Forsyth but wanted to resolve some small issues before adopting the change.

Under the proposal from TSW Design, there would be differing standards for individual lots being developed and subdivisions.

For lots, proposals included that:

- homes must cover a maximum of 40 percent of the property under Res 4 standards;

- exterior finish materials exterior walks must provide windrows that cover 15 percent of the wall area for the front yard and 10 percent for the side yard;

- window glass panes must be 1/5 inches from an adjacent wall or trim;

- garage doors facing the street must set back 10 feet from the face of the building;

- the main entrance of the house must face the street or public space;

- and accessory buildings must be the same material as the primary building.

For subdivisions, proposals include:

- common areas can be no smaller than 8,000 square feet;

- open spaces must provide or preserve 20 overstory trees per acre;

- sidewalks are required on all new streets and on both sides if it serves more than 30 houses;

- sign standards

- consistent lighting throughout the development;

- and new trees could be no more than 33 percent of one species, along with proposals.

The item will come back to a future meeting for approval.

No solicitation

New rules will prohibit businesses from solicitation at some residences.

Changes included that solicitors cannot go to homes with “no solicitation” signs and changes to definitions.

“We have expanded, somewhat, the definition to include individuals that solicit orders or appointments, which is something we heard some concerns by citizens,” said County Attorney Ken Jarrard.

Jarrard said the rules were only for commercial businesses and would not impact religious or political literature due to First Amendment protections.

5G rules

After new rules were adopted by state lawmakers earlier this year related to wireless antennas and 5G technology, Jarrard updated commissioners on what needed to be done ahead of those changes going into effect on Oct. 1.

“The notion is that the next technological phase of wireless communications is coming down, and that would be the rollout of 5G,” Jarrard said. “The wireless industry is very interested in making use of the local government right-of-way to be able to roll out 5G.”

Jarrard said unlike previous cell towers, 5G would be using small cell technology, which means smaller but more numerous antennas.

The state legislation allows the companies to either “co-locate” on existing utility poles in county-right-of-way or to build new poles.

County officials have discussed small cell technology since at least 2017 and have previously adopted local standards and licensing. The 5G technology is the next step in cellular technology after 4G and is expected to be much quicker than current wireless communication and used for autonomous vehicles.

Jarrard said the county could charge companies $100 for co-location, $200 for new poles and an additional $40 per year if co-located on county poles.

“Obviously, these are very powerful rates for multi-billion-dollar companies,” Jarrard said.

Commissioners indicated they would approve a resolution related to the change at a future meeting.