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Several twists in tax vote
Balloting tight, support scattered
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Forsyth County News

The vote, elections officials and those on both side of the issue agree, was close. Some 500 votes close.

And while much of the initial focus after last week’s successful sales tax referendum fell on the narrow margin, a closer look at the election returns shows some other interesting subplots.

Overall across Forsyth County’s 25 precincts, voters approved a six-year extension of the tax by a 52 percent to 48 percent differential, with 6,825 votes in favor and 6,321 votes against.

More than 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.

According to information provided by the local voter registration and elections department, precincts in north and extreme south Forsyth by and large backed the measure.

But conversely, precincts in the center of the county, a populous swath stretching from the Cherokee County line to Lake Lanier, for the most part voted against it.

Exceptions in the county’s midsection included the Cumming, Mashburn and Riverclub precincts, which supported the referendum.

The main projects the sales tax revenue will fund — a new courthouse and expanded detention center — will be across from each other in downtown Cumming, the county seat.

In other wrinkles:

• The Mashburn and Polo precincts posted the largest voter turnout, with nearly 19 percent and 18 percent, respectively.

• Turnout was lowest in the Brandywine precinct in southwestern Forsyth, where 9.3 percent of registered voters took part.

• It wasn’t much higher in the Keith Bridge, Old Atlanta and Riverclub precincts, each of which came in at about 11 percent. Keith Bridge is in the county’s northeastern corner, while Old Atlanta is the southernmost tip and RiverClub is in the southeast.

• The referendum failed by one vote in the Piney Grove precinct in the county’s center, 172-171; four votes in Sharon Forks to the south, 283-279; and five votes in Pleasant Grove, 88-83, which is in northeastern Forsyth.

• The outcome in four other precincts ranged from nine to six votes.

• The largest margin of victory was in the Johns Creek precinct, where there were 135 more votes in favor of the extension than against it, for a nearly 65 percent share of the vote.

And in perhaps the most dramatic twist Tuesday night, the overall election turned on the absentee votes, as well as those from the advance and early voting periods, which were the last tallied.

Entering that point in the returns, 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 accounted for the final outcome.

Barbara Luth, Forsyth County elections supervisor, said it’s not uncommon for such votes to swing an election.

"It happens a lot more now that we have the early voting in person," she said. "It happened less when it was all being done by mail."

Luth explained that ballots cast ahead of time couldn’t be counted until 7 p.m Tuesday.

"If you start putting those totals into the total in the middle of things, it’ll look like there’s a polling precinct that reported, however it did not," she said.

Luth said workers who called in during the day Tuesday reported a steady flow of voters at the polls.

After the election, 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.

The special purpose local option sales tax, billed as SPLOST VII, is projected to bring in $200 million from June 2013-19.

In addition to the courthouse and jail, the bulk of first $101 million in revenue will also go toward an emergency water generator.

Land acquisition and site work can begin immediately for the projects, Tam has said.

According to the sales tax agreement, the revenue after the first $101 million would be split, with 87.5 percent going to the county and 12.5 percent to the city of Cumming.

 Other county projects include: about $70 million for transportation improvements; about $3 million for an animal shelter; and $3.9 million to replace fire engines.

 The city’s list includes an estimated $7 million for park and recreation projects and about $5.5 million for road improvements.