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Sharon Springs cityhood bill to be reintroduced
South Forsyths Jones running legal ad as notification
Jones Todd
Todd Jones. - photo by File photo

A south Forsyth lawmaker plans to introduce a second attempt at legislation to create a new city in south Forsyth.

District 25 state Rep. Todd Jones plans to introduce a bill on Tuesday, March 28 to begin the cityhood process for Sharon Springs, what would be the second municipality in Forsyth County. A previous bill to incorporate the city was filed in 2015, but the bill was removed in early 2016.

“I think the citizens of Forsyth County should have the opportunity to vet whether or not cityhood is right for the southern part of the county,” Jones said.

Jones ran a legal advertisement in today’s edition of the Forsyth County News.

“This bill really does two things: one, it preserves the right for the citizens of Forsyth to determine whether or not they’d like to create the city of Sharon Springs; and the second thing it does is it puts into motion effectively a process that I’m going to be running over the summer into the fall that is effectively a study committee.”

The approximate boundaries of the proposed city are east of Ga. 400, south of Hwy. 20, west of the Chattahoochee River — already a boundary with Gwinnett County — and north of the Fulton County line.

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THE BILL

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The previous Sharon Springs Bill had been proposed as a “city light,” meaning the city could have just three services — zoning, sanitation and code enforcement. A legal opinion has since been given that the state constitution does not allow limiting the number of services, which was one reason for the original bill being pulled.

Under Jones’s bill, the city will begin with three services but will not be limited. Jones said which services to begin with will be discussed by the study committee.

The elected officials of Sharon Springs would be made up of a mayor and six councilmembers, all of whom must live in the city for at least a year prior.

Of the six council seats, three will be elected on a city-wide basis and three will be voted on by the majority of three proposed districts. The mayor will also be able to vote along with councilmembers.

Both the mayor and councilmembers would be limited to “two full, consecutive four-year terms” in office.

The bill also calls for “a court to be known as the Municipal Court of the City of Sharon Springs” presided over by a chief judge and with other judges to be approved by ordinances.

Sharon Springs will also be able to “assess, levy and collect an ad valorem tax on all real and personal property” to offset government costs, payment on general obligations and other purposes as decided by the city.

The bill also says the city’s millage rate “shall not exceed 0.5 mills.”

To become a city, the bill will need to pass both houses of the Georgia General Assembly and be approved by voters who live in the area in 2018. No action will be taken this year.

“My feeling is let’s preserve the right. There’s no sense not preserving it. We can either make the decision to continue it in ’18 or we can make the decision to pull it in ’18,” Jones said. “It’s better to have that optionality than not have that optionality at all.”

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THE STUDY COMMITTEE

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To help form the plan for the city, Jones will head a study committee to look at data on the potential city.

“We’re going to start working on identifying participants for the committee in late April and early-May,” Jones said.

He said many meetings will be held over the summer and that he is hoping to have an opinion from the committee by late September or early October.

Jones said he hopes to have members added to the committee by as many local elected officials as he can to get data on the proposed city.

“For clarity, we want to get people on that committee who are from all of Forsyth County, not just south Forsyth, but we want the entire county represented in this committee,” he said. “We think that’s key because at the end of the day these conversations should be had not just with the elected officials, but with the citizens.

He said that while campaigning in 2016, the three largest issues were growth, traffic and overcrowded schools, which he called “the big three,” but after that cityhood was one of the biggest questions.

“There were questions about, ‘Hey, does cityhood make sense? Is cityhood something we should consider? Does cityhood bring government closer to us? Does cityhood increase taxes, decrease taxes, have no effect on taxes, etc.?’” Jones said.

Jones said he hopes the committee answers those questions.

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THE BACKGROUND

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In March 2015, a study done by the Sharon Springs Alliance, a group favoring cityhood, announced a study it commissioned from the Carl Vinson Institute at the University of Georgia found the city was feasible. A bill to move forward with cityhood was introduced later that month by Jones’s predecessor, Mike Dudgeon.

The bill had to be introduced more than a year before it was voted on and was expected to be on the 2016 ballot.

At that time, those in favor of Sharon Springs contended the area has been misrepresented in terms of zoning, which is among the driving factors. Opponents voiced concerns about a possible higher tax burden.

Another study was commissioned by Forsyth County and performed by Alfie Meek, director of the innovation strategy and impact team at Georgia Tech.

That study found the county would save about $769,000 but would lose about $6.2 million in revenue.