SOUTH FORSYTH -- A proposed city in south Forsyth has local officials on all sides of the issue.
Earlier this week, District 25 state Rep. Todd Jones announced his plans to introduce and ran a legal advertisement in the Forsyth County News for a second bill to begin the cityhood process for the proposed city of Sharon Springs, a second municipality in Forsyth County. A previous bill to incorporate the city was filed in 2015, but the bill was removed in early 2016.
“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,” Jones said previously, “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.
To become a reality, the bill would need to pass both houses of the Georgia General Assembly and be approved by voters who live in the area.
To help form the plan for the city, Jones will head a study committee to look at data on the potential city.
Previously both Forsyth County and the Sharon Springs Alliance, a group favoring cityhood, have solicited studies.
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.
District 2 Commissioner Rick Swope
If the cityhood movement is successful, District 2 in south Forsyth would be the most heavily impacted district. Rick Swope, the district’s commissioner, said at this point, it is keeping the cityhood option alive for residents to decide.
“The goal right now is just to keep the window of opportunity open,” he said. “My understanding is without this bill, this could not even be brought up for consideration until 2020, I believe was the number. So, what this does is it really gives us an opportunity to create the study committee, see what makes sense and proceed if it makes sense.
“This is not necessarily moving inextricably toward that direction, but it doesn’t close the door either.”
Swope said he had constituents for and against cityhood but felt representation was the big issue.
“I’ve heard arguments on both sides,” he said, “I think I would have to say the lean is probably toward this, but I’m not sure that it is a matter of cityhood as much as close representation. What I mean by that is I think there has been a history of feeling like what happens in Cumming doesn’t adequately represent what the community wants to see.”
He said since taking office at the beginning of the year he had focused on community engagement, such as a newly created citizen stakeholder group, and would be doing more in the future.
Chairman Todd Levent
Commission Chairman Todd Levent said commissioners knew it was a possibility the bill could come back.
“With the new study that was out and the thought that the new commission is more aligned with the homeowners and HOAs, we didn’t think they would push for it again. We didn’t think they would find it needed, he said.
Previously, a 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.
Levent said the study found all citizens in the county would be impacted.
“The study that [the alliance] did did not have all the information that would cover a city. It was only offering a few services, which we know need to be more to be a reality,” he said. “So the county did a study that was more realistic and it shows that taxes would go up on all the citizens in the county including the folks in [the city].”
Levent said he wouldn’t be for or against city hood and would leave the decision to voters.
“Personally, I don’t stand for larger government [or] higher taxes,” he said. “However, if this is what the citizens hope to put upon themselves, then it’s their decision.
Sharon Springs Alliance Chairman Phillip Barlag
Phillip Barlag, a longtime supporter of a cityhood vote and chairman of the Sharon Springs Alliance, took the opposite stance on the studies and said a study commissioned by the group and performed by the Carl Vinson Institute at the University of Georgia finding the city feasible was more accurate.
“Of all of the feasibility studies they’ve ever done, the folks from Carl Vinson will tell you we were the most hands-off of any incorporation that has ever been and the same cannot be said for the study the commission put together,” he said. “Our hands were not on the scales at all.”
While he said he wants residents to decide which is best, Barlag also said one reason for supporting cityhood was a lack of community feel in south Forsyth.
“Just in the area of Sharon Springs, you have Cumming mailing addresses, you have Alpharetta mailing addresses, you’ve got Johns Creek, you’ve got Duluth, you’ve got Suwanee,” Barlag said. “According to Google Maps, at the top of my street is Cumming and the bottom of my very same street is Suwanee.
“It’s a major hindrance for economic development to have an area with no identity.”
Barlag said he is also hopeful the proposal will gain more steam the second time.
“We’ve been pretty consistent in polling and see numbers continue to be in favor. I think that’s because: one, more people understand the process; two, it takes a while to kind of wrap your head around it,” he said. “Keep in mind, Sandy Springs took 30 years; we’re in year three.”