With 25 of 25 precincts reporting:
* Yes — 6,825 votes, or about 52 percent
* No — 6,321 votes, or about 48 percent
Source: Forsyth County Elections Office
In tight balloting, Forsyth County voters on Tuesday approved a six-year extension of the 1-cent sales tax by 504 votes.
With all 25 precincts reporting the referendum passed with 6,825 votes, or about 52 percent, in favor to 6,321 votes, or about 48 percent, against.
Projected to bring in $200 million from June 2013-19, the program will pay for construction of a new courthouse, expanded detention center, road improvements and animal shelter, among other projects.
Some 10,300 voters went to the polls Tuesday. Overall turnout for the election was 13,146, or nearly 14 percent of the county’s 96,370 registered voters.
Barbara Luth, Forsyth County elections supervisor, said the contest was one of the closest she’s seen.
"It’s been closer, but this was close," Luth said. "The absentee votes actually kicked [it] over the top."
The absentee votes, as well as those from the advance and early voting periods, were tallied at the end.
Without them, the referendum was trailing by 104 votes, 5,108 to 5,212.
With them, however, it received an additional 1,717 votes in favor and 1,109 against, which made for the final outcome.
A recount for the referendum would automatically be taken only if the difference is less than 1 percent, Luth said.
Otherwise, someone could request a recount due to voter fraud, which would have to be approved by the local elections board.
Forsyth County Commission Chairman Brian Tam said "the citizens have voted and approved a number of projects that this community needs."
"Paying for them with sales tax dollars is the most effective," Tam said.
Land acquisition and site work can begin immediately for the projects, he said.
Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt said he and other city leaders were "very excited" to see the referendum approved.
The city receives a portion of the sales tax revenue for municipal projects.
"This time we waived our first [12.5] percent to go toward the new courthouse and jail," Gravitt said. "We voted to do that because we felt those projects were so important."
The mayor said he was also pleased to have the facilities remain in downtown Cumming.
"We felt that’s where they needed to stay since that’s where they’ve been since the city was chartered," he said.
The new courthouse will be built across East Maple Street in downtown Cumming from the detention center, allowing for more direct and safer access between the two.
The buildings would be connected by an elevated walkway or tunnel, though specifics have not been determined.
Steve Voshall, chairman of the Forsyth County Tea Party, which came out in opposition of the tax, was encouraged by the participation and community discussion surrounding Tuesday’s election.
"We’re very focused on educating people on the issues and getting them interested," he said. "We had about twice as many people vote on this SPLOST vote versus the school SPLOST [in March], and about four times as many people voted ‘no.’"
Jayne Iglesias, co-chair of Citizens For Progess, a group that backed the measure, also noted the nearly 14 percent voter turnout.
"We’re pleased that everybody felt educated enough to go out and vote," she said.
Staff Writer Crystal Ledford contributed to this report.