WEST FORSYTH — Talk of whether a new city in south Forsyth is the best plan for the county’s future has remained in the spotlight since August, but the first action on the topic was announced Tuesday night.
Funds have been secured to sponsor a feasibility study on the pros and cons of the would-be second city, tentatively called Sharon Springs.
The announcement came at the beginning of the third in a series of three town hall meetings held by local state lawmakers to discuss the county’s governance.
Topics for all three forums — spearheaded by state District 25 Rep. Mike Dudgeon’s first meeting in October and a column in the Forsyth County News in August — focused on the makeup of the county commission, a potential consolidation of the county and city of Cumming and the impact of a second city.
The Sharon Springs Alliance, a nonprofit organization aimed at addressing what members say is the need for controlled growth in Forsyth, has raised $26,000 to fund the independent, third-party study, according to Steve Benefield, co-founder.
“We want to protect what we have. What we are,” Benefield said during the community forum Tuesday night at West Forsyth High School. “Forsyth County is a fantastic place to live, and we want it to stay that way for the next 30 years.”
The keyword here is potential. Neither the alliance nor elected officials are pushing a yes-or-no vote, members from both have said. The point of the study is to gather information on whether the plan is plausible.
And if one option is chosen, city limit signs or countywide voting for commissioners cannot pop up with the snap of a lawmaker’s finger.
“It’s not our role to inject our personal thoughts and opinions,” said state Sen.-elect Williams, the meeting’s host. “We want to hear what [residents] have to say and what [they] think is important.”
In January, Williams will fill the post in District 27, which covers most of the county except for a small northeast corner in District 51.
For the study, the Carl Vinson Institute at the University of Georgia will explore details such as boundaries, costs to the county, benefits to potential residents and practicality.
Alliance members have said Sharon Springs would be a “city light,” meaning it would only provide three services to residents, the minimum to become a city in Georgia. Initially, those services were thought to be planning and zoning, code enforcement and waste disposal.
Where do we go from here?
Results from the study are anticipated in early March.
Residents on both sides of the issue who aired opinions at the final town hall meeting asked where the process goes in the meantime.
To start, all three main options discussed must pass through the Georgia General Assembly, which convenes in the beginning months of each year.
Creating a city of Sharon Springs would require Forsyth County’s seven state lawmakers — five representatives and two senators, all Republicans — to agree that’s the best plan. Any such decision would likely be based on the results of the feasibility study and a general community consensus that a second city would be better than the other options, as well as the status quo.
Dudgeon said getting as close as possible to a unanimous local vote on any bill brought to the assembly is the goal.
If such a bill were to pass, residents within the boundaries of the proposed city would then vote on the concept.
A second discussion point revolved around how Forsyth elects its county commissioners.
If the local delegation agrees it is in the best interest and want of the community to return to pre-2008 voting — in which the commissioners were elected countywide, not by district — they can bring a bill to the assembly.
And that’s it.
The option with the most steps would be the potential consolidation of the Cumming and Forsyth County governments.
This would require a bill to pass the assembly and separate votes by Cumming residents and the entire county.
Dudgeon said the town hall meetings were informative and eye-opening, but no decision has been made.
“We, as a delegation, still have to have our own discussions,” he said after the meeting.
Williams, the incoming senator, said one piece of feedback that was immediately clear was to call for a town hall meeting sponsored by the five county commissioners. That suggestion was met with the loudest applause of the night.
District 1 Commissioner Pete Amos, who also chairs the five-member panel, said they could be open to holding a meeting.
But he questioned why concerned residents cannot voice their thoughts during the 30 minutes allotted for public comments at each monthly work session and regular meeting.
He also pointed out that the commissioners — no matter how upset the community may be over the election process — can’t change that setup because they don’t affect the Georgia Legislature.