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Talk turns to equestrian center
Residents discuss potential facility, more at town hall
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Forsyth County News

A proposed equestrian center at a future Forsyth County park took center stage during Commissioner Patrick Bell’s town hall meeting Tuesday night.

The open public forum at Coal Mountain Park Community Building drew about 80 people for comments and questions with Bell, the District 4 commissioner.

Bell said the meetings give him a chance to discuss issues of interest with county residents.

Several topics came up during the 90-minute gathering, but Bell opened the floor for opinions on the equestrian center.

The facility is proposed for the former Lanierland Music Park property in northeastern Forsyth, which the county bought in 2009.

"There seems to be a lot of interest in it and there seems to be some opposition to it," he said. "So I wanted to make that a topic here at this town hall meeting, so I could hear what the community has to say."

During a recent work session, the county commission added the center to the master plan for the future park.

Sherri Hamilton, owner of a local horse farm, said a center for riding would be a benefit to the community and a possible revenue generator for the county.

Residents involved in the sport must travel to other areas to participate in tournaments and shows, Hamilton said. A local facility would give Forsyth a chance to play host to such events, which produce revenue and sales tax.

The center wouldn’t harm local horse businesses, she said, but rather increase awareness of the sport as visitors see children on horses.

"People will be looking for our farms to give their kids lessons," Hamilton said.

Richard Fahey added that the county’s high schools have teams that are ranked nationally, so a center of this type fits community needs.

Others questioned the cost of maintaining a county horse facility.

Bell said the county plans to open the center as either a self-funding or revenue-generating facility.

The construction funding is available through the voter-approved $100 million parks, recreation and green space bond, he said. That same funding source was used to acquire the 109-acre property on Jot Em Down Road for $4.75 million.

Bell also fielded a variety of other questions, ranging from county banking and land-use designations to possible unified development code changes and 1-cent sales tax issues.

The county’s upcoming negotiations with the city of Cumming sparked interest in the crowd, which asked for information about the water contract and the local option sales tax.

Forsyth buys most of its water from Cumming, which has a withdrawal permit from Lake Lanier. The county doesn’t.

With the current contract between the governments expiring on May 26, Bell said new terms and rates are under negotiation.

"The fact of the matter is, the county does not have a long-term water supply solution today," he said. "We need a minimum 25-year water contract with reasonable rates."

A presentation on the matter is expected at tonight’s commission meeting.

Also up for negotiation this year is the local option sales tax, or LOST, a 1-cent sales tax designed to roll back property taxes.

The city and county must agree on a split of the tax revenue based on services provided, said Bell, adding that a proposal has not been floated.

Bell, who is seeking re-election this year, said he has held four or five town hall meetings, as promised in his previous campaign.

He said that Tuesday’s meeting was not part of his campaign. Like the others, however, it was an opportunity to meet with constituents.

His announced challengers for the commission seat, Cindy J. Mills and Bill Mulrooney, both attended the town hall.

No other commissioners were present.