FORSYTH COUNTY — Forsyth County ranks near the top of most lists for positive attributes in the state, but on Thursday some of its highest praise came from local leaders.
“Forsyth is one wonderful and amazing county and we have had a heck of a year,” said Pete Amos, chairman of the county commission.
Amos and Darla Light, who chairs the local school board, were the keynote speakers for the annual State of the County Address. Organized by the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce and Council for Quality Growth, the event was held at the Lanier Technical College Forsyth Conference Center.
During their remarks, Amos and Light reviewed some of the county’s high rankings and improvements over the past year.
“The new jail and courthouse are critical components of our public safety and judicial systems,” Amos said. “I’ve heard nothing but positive comments from those who have visited the courthouse.”
The five-story courthouse opened in March. It, along with the new four-story jail across East Maple Street and two nearby multi-level parking decks with hundreds of spaces each, was funded through an extension of the 1-cent sales tax program that voters approved in a November 2011 referendum.
The first $100 million from the sales tax is going toward the structures, on which construction began in July 2013. The jail is scheduled to open this July.
The commissioner expressed gratitude to local voters for approving a $200 million transportation bond referendum last fall. The funding will go towards various road improvement projects, most notably the widening of Ga. 400 in Forsyth.
Plans call for both directions of Ga. 400 to be widened by one lane in the existing inside median from McFarland Parkway to at least Bald Ridge Marina Road and possibly as far north as Hwy. 369 in north Forsyth. Work will begin no later than November.
“I want to give a big, huge thank you to the citizens of Forsyth County, almost 63 percent of you voters approved [it], almost unheard of in the state of Georgia,” Amos said. “These are great citizens that don’t mind paying a little extra to get the problems taken care of.”
While addressing the county’s success, Amos also made reference to the proposed formation of a city called Sharon Springs in south Forsyth.
“We are the county that continues to excel in just about every list and category imaginable,” he said. “In my opinion, the question must be asked, ‘Would these proposals enhance our community?’ To answer that question, we should not work separately, but together.”
The approximate boundaries of the proposed city are east of Ga. 400, south of Hwy. 20, west of the Chattahoochee River — already a county boundary — and north of the Fulton County line. As proposed, the population would be roughly 50,000 residents.
District 25 state Rep. Mike Dudgeon introduced a bill in the Georgia General Assembly this past session that will initiate the process for creating Sharon Springs, whose format has been described as “city light,” or one offering just a few services.
The standard cityhood process requires legislation for a new city be introduced a year before it can be considered for a vote, in this case 2016.
Under that timeframe, and provided the voters living in the affected area agree, the earliest the city could begin operating would be 2017.
The achievements of the local school system were highlighted as Light went through numerous lists that placed it among the state’s best.
“Among Georgia’s 15 largest districts, we have the highest graduation rate, the highest district SAT score and the highest Georgia high school writing test results,” Light said. “It’s the teachers that deserve all the credit. We have some great teachers.”
Light also touched on several changes the district has undergone, including online learning days, which the system had to use during winter weather in February.
“This is something that we’re really proud of and we plan on continuing this next year,” she said. “Not only is this an alternate for makeup days where we don’t have to give up spring break days, but it’s also preparing our kids for virtual learning in college and in the workplace.”
Looking ahead, Light mentioned that the system soon will have to redraw its attendance zones to accommodate new schools in south Forsyth.
“Everybody hates redistricting, but it’s a necessary evil in this county because we are growing by leaps and bounds,” she said. “In the fall of 2016, we will be opening Brandywine Elementary and Desana Middle School, so we will redistrict this [coming] fall so everybody can know where they’re going to be going.”