With this year’s legislative session and party primaries in the rear view, members of Forsyth County’s legislative delegation spoke this week.
On Tuesday morning, members of the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce hosted the annual post-legislative breakfast at Sawnee EMC. The event was attended by District 51 state Sen. Steve Gooch and state Representatives Sheri Gilligan, District 24; Todd Jones, District 25; and Marc Morris, District 26.
District 27 state Sen. Michael Williams, District 9 state Rep. Kevin Tanner and District 22 state Rep. Wes Cantrell were not able to attend the event.
Attendees at the event were able to submit questions for the state lawmakers and were asked to respond to a survey question from the chamber.
When asked whether they supported “Forsyth County opting-in to the Metro Atlanta Transit Plan with an additional sales tax,” 64 percent of responders were in favor, compared with 28 percent opposed and 8 percent undecided.
Below are a few of the topics discussed Tuesday morning.
Last week, residents narrowly voted against the creation of the city of Sharon Springs in south Forsyth. Though 54 percent of voters were in favor, the bill required at least 57.5 percent of voters to approve to become a reality.
Todd Jones, who sponsored House Bill 626, which provided the process for creating the proposed city, said though the city did not pass there were still issues that needed to be addressed.
“I think one of the things we can do as a delegation is make sure we are part of a solution and we work with the other elected officials and also the citizens in orders to address those issues that, frankly, are out there and it would be willfully blind on our part not to say, ‘We have them. Let’s solve them,’” Jones said.
Gooch said one common reason for the new city was to limit growth but felt that officials at the local level rather than the state should be the ones deciding plans for growth.
“The fact that this referendum failed last week didn’t solve anything,” Gooch said. “It gives you another opportunity to come back and try something else, and the county commissioners have that opportunity now to make some changes moving forward, and I think they have already.”
Between the tri-state water wars between Georgia, Florida and Alabama, attempts from the state to reach into the Tennessee River and local efforts to allow Forsyth County to draw out of Lake Lanier, water issues have been a key focus recently.
This year, Morris represented legislation to create a joint Georgia-North Carolina and Georgia-Tennessee Boundary Line Commission aimed at establishing Georgia’s northern border at the 35th parallel, as proposed in the 1800s, which is more than a mile north than the actual border in some places.
By the original boundary, Georgia should be allowed to reach a portion of the Tennessee River, which Tennessee officials have opposed.
“We contribute a billion and a half gallons of water per day into the Tennessee River,” Morris said. “If the water hits the ground and flows into the Tennessee River, they take it, make power, sell it back to Georgia and keep the water. If we were able to capture one-third of that water and reconstitute it back into our lake system, that would solve the water issue … for Georgia, Florida and Alabama.”
Gilligan pointed out the importance of returning water taken from the Lake Lanier basin to the area.
Gooch said the state would likely have a resolution to many of its water issues once the Supreme Court decided on the water wars between Georgia, Alabama and Florida.
“Once that ruling comes down, I think it is going to set a lot of policy in Georgia going forward,” he said. “It’s going to have an impact on Lake Lanier as well. There’s been a lot of interest on an additional withdrawal permit for intake in Lake Lanier from Forsyth County. All of these things are hinging on that one issue, and that is the court ruling.”
Recently, Forsyth County Commissioners heard an update on plans to bring express lanes to Ga. 400. The express lanes were one of several transportation issues discussed on Tuesday.
“The express lanes are good tools, but I only support them if they are new lanes,” Gooch said. “I don’t think we should toll existing roadways because we’ve already paid for that through our motor fuel tax.”
Gilligan said county residents deserve credit for approving the $200 million transportation bond in 2014, which led to new lanes on Ga. 400.
“Forsyth County has paid far more than any other municipality or jurisdiction to get the lanes on 400,” she said. “I think that we deserve lanes seven and eight without them being toll, express lanes. Then, we would be on par with all of the other areas south of us who did not have bond themselves to get the lanes. At that point, if they want to give us more lanes, then we can talk about express lanes.