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What to know about amendments, referenda and special elections on this year’s ballot

After months of primaries, runoffs early voting and campaign rallies, advance voting is over and all that remains is election day on Tuesday, Nov. 6.

As voters choose between, Republican, Democratic and Libertarian candidates for federal and state positions, local voters will also decide amendments to the Georgia Constitution, a local special one-cent sales tax, changing the time which customers can purchase alcohol on Sundays and more.

Voting on Tuesday will also be open at all local precincts, after being opened at only the new Forsyth County Voter Registration and Elections Office, Hampton Park Library and Midway and Sharon Springs parks. 

As of Thursday’s total, 45,344 locals, or about 30 percent of the county’s 150,000 voters, had cast in-person ballots in-person during advance voting. 

Below are the questions that will appear on Forsyth County voters’ ballots and some explanation of what they mean. 

Proposed Constitutional Amendments (Vote Yes or No)

(1) Creates the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund to protect water quality, wildlife habitat, and parks.

House Resolution No. 238 Resolution Act No. 414 Ga. L. 2018, p. 1138

What is says: "Without increasing the current state sales tax rate, shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to create the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund to conserve lands that protect drinking water sources and the water quality of rivers, lakes and streams; to protect and conserve forests, fish, wildlife habitats, and state and local parks; and to provide opportunities for our children and families to play and enjoy the outdoors, by dedicating, subject to full public disclosure, up to 80 percent of the existing sales tax collected by sporting goods stores to such purposes without increasing the current state sales tax rate?"

What it means: If it passes, up to 80 percent of sales taxes collected by sporting goods stores would go to the “protection and preservation of conservation land,” according to the secretary of state’s website. 

(2) Creates a state-wide business court to lower costs, enhance efficiency, and promote predictable judicial outcomes.

House Resolution No. 993 Resolution Act No. 410 Ga. L. 2018, p. 1130

What it says: “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to create a state-wide business court, authorize superior court business court divisions, and allow for the appointment process for state-wide business court judges in order to lower costs, improve the efficiency of all courts, and promote predictability of judicial outcomes in certain complex business disputes for the benefit of all citizens of this state?”

What it means: If parties to a lawsuit agree, a case could be removed from the judicial circuit’s Superior Court to a new statewide business court. Judges for this court would serve five-year terms by appointment of the governor. They can be reappointed for any number of consecutive terms, according to the resolution. A Metro Atlanta Business Court oversees cases in Fulton and Gwinnett counties. According to the business court’s 2016 data, half of the cases were closed within 12 months of transferring to business court.

(3) Encourages the conservation, sustainability, and longevity of Georgia's working forests through tax subclassification and grants.

House Resolution No. 51 Resolution Act No. 297Ga. L. 2018, p. 1127

What it says: “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to revise provisions related to the subclassification for tax purposes of and the prescribed methodology for establishing the value of forest land conservation use property and related assistance grants, to provide that assistance grants related to forest land conservation use property may be increased by general law for a five-year period and that up to 5 percent of assistance grants may be deducted and retained by the state revenue commissioner to provide for certain state administrative costs, and to provide for the subclassification of qualified timberland property for ad valorem taxation purposes?”

What it means: The amendment would create a new class for ad valorem taxation known as “qualified timberland property,” which “includes only tangible real property” primarily used for growing trees, according to House Resolution 51. The Georgia Forestry Association said it would increase the acres “eligible for conservation under the Forest Land Protection Act.” Currently, land protected by the act must be 200 contiguous acres. This change would allow it to be “an aggregate of 200 acres across the state” if there are 100-acre parcels in any county, according to the forestry association.

(4) Provides rights for victims of crime in the judicial process.

Senate Resolution No. 146 Resolution Act No. 467 Ga. L. 2018, p. 1139

What is says: “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to provide certain rights to victims against whom a crime has allegedly been perpetrated and allow victims to assert such rights?”

What it means:  Called Marsy’s Law, the law would give crime victims certain constitutionally protected rights, including timely notification of court proceedings and the right “to be heard at any scheduled court proceedings involving the release, plea or sentencing of the accused,” according to Senate Resolution 146. The Georgia General Assembly would also create a process for a family member or guardian to “assert the rights of such victim” when the victim is a minor, legally incapacitated or dead.

(5) Authorizes fair allocation of sales tax proceeds to county and city school districts.

Senate Resolution No. 95 Resolution Act No. 278 Ga. L. 2017, p. 857

What it says: “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to authorize a referendum for a sales and use tax for education by a county school district or an independent school district or districts within the county having a majority of the students enrolled within the county and to provide that the proceeds are distributed on a per student basis among all the school systems unless an agreement is reached among such school systems for a different distribution?”

What it means: If passed, school systems with the majority of students enrolled in a county could call for a referendum without needing approval from all school systems. The funds would then be issued on a per student basis among all school systems inside the county unless another distribution agreement is reached between the school systems. According to Senate Resolution 95, the per student distribution formula would be based on the latest “full-time equivalent count” prior to the tax referendum.

Proposed Statewide Referenda (Vote Yes or No)

(A) Provides for a homestead exemption for residents of certain municipal corporations.

House Bill No. 820 Act No. 346 Ga. L. 2018, p. 235

What it says: “Do you approve a new homestead exemption in a municipal corporation that is located in more than one county, that levies a sales tax for the purposes of a metropolitan area system of public transportation and that has within its boundaries an independent school system, from ad valorem taxes for municipal purposes in the amount of the difference between the current year assessed value of a home and the adjusted base year value, provided that the lowest base year value will be adjusted yearly by 2.6 percent?”

What it means: This would create an ad valorem tax homestead exemption that meets all of the requirements listed in the referendum. If approved, the act would take effect Jan. 1.

(B) Provides a tax exemption for certain homes for the mentally disabled.

House Bill No. 196 Act No. 25 Ga. L. 2017, p. 55

What it says: “Shall the Act be approved which provides an exemption from ad valorem taxes on nonprofit homes for the mentally disabled if they include business corporations in the ownership structure for financing purposes?”

What it means: Similar to the first referendum, this ad valorem tax exemption would affect nonprofit homes serving the mentally disabled. According to the secretary of state’s website, it would make it clear that the exemption applies “even when financing for construction or renovation of the homes is provided by a business corporation or other entity.”

Special Elections (Vote Yes or No)

Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax 

What it says: Shall a special one percent sales and use tax be continued in the special district of Forsyth County for a period of time of six years for the raising of approximately $274,000,000 for the purpose of funding (a) (i) roads, streets, bridges and sidewalks, (ii) park and recreation, (iii) public safety (sheriff), (iv) public safety (fire), (v) senior service, (vi) water and sewer, (vii) administrative, (viii) library, (ix) storm water/drainage,  (x) animal service and (xi) veterans’ memorial, all for the benefit of Forsyth County and (b) (i) roads, streets, bridges, parking and sidewalks, including a bypass and (ii) Dobbs Creek Recreation Center, all for the benefit of the City of Cumming, Georgia? If imposition of the tax is approved by the voters, such vote shall also constitute an approval of the issuance of general obligation debt of Forsyth County in the maximum principal amount of $100,000,000 for the purposes of funding all or a portion of any County projects, capitalized interest on the debt and the costs of issuing the debt.

What it means: Voting in favor would mean extending a special purpose local option sales tax, or SPLOST VIII, which was first approved in Forsyth County in 1987 and has been continued six times since. The 1-cent sales tax is projected to have a six-year total of about $274 million. The city of Cumming will get about 5.3 percent of those funds, about $13.5 million. Some of the proposed county projects include pavement widening, development and improvements for the Big Creek Greenway renovation or development of new county parks and facilities, a west precinct for the county sheriff’s office and $100 million collected to pay off bond debt from the $200 million transportation bond approved by voters in 2014. City projects include the creation of a new “northern bypass” that would connect Hwy. 9 to Pilgrim Mill Road; improvements and maintenance to existing roads; expansion of the city’s aquatic center and the arena at the Cumming Fairgrounds; and the creation of a more accessible veterans’ memorial in the city.

Extending Hours for Sunday Sales of Alcohol by the Drink 

What it says: Shall the governing authority of Forsyth County, Georgia be authorized to permit and regulate Sunday sales of distilled spirits or alcoholic beverages for beverage purposes by the drink from 11:00 A.M. to 12:30 P.M.?

What it means: The result of the so-called “brunch bill,” approval would move that earliest time restaurants in Forsyth County could serve alcohol beverages by the drink from 12:30 p.m. to 11 a.m. The question will only apply to businesses in the unincorporated parts of Forsyth County, meaning it will not impact city businesses. 

Voting will be open at the following locations 

Precinct 01, Big Creek, First Redeemer Church- 2100 Peachtree Parkway, Cumming, 30041  

Precinct 02, Brandywine, Calvary Chapel, 200 James Road, Alpharetta, 30004  

Precinct 03, Browns Bridge, Central Park Recreation Center, 2300 Keith Bridge Road, Cumming, 30040  

Precinct 04, Chestatee, Central Park Recreation Center, 2300 Keith Bridge Road, Cumming, 30040  

Precinct 05, Coal Mountain, Coal Mountain Park Community Building, 3560 Settingdown Road, Cumming, 30028  

Precinct 06, Crossroads, Hampton Park Library, 5345 Settingdown Road, Cumming, 30041  

Precinct 07, Cumming, Cumming City Hall, 100 Main Street, Cumming, 30040  

Precinct 08, Mashburn, Lanier United Methodist Church, 1979 Buford Highway, Cumming, 30041  

Precinct 10, Midway, Midway Park Community Building, 5100 Post Road, Cumming, 30040  

Precinct 15, Heardsville, Sawnee Mountain Park Community Building, 3995 Watson Road, Cumming, 30028  

Precinct 16, Otwell, First Baptist Cumming, 1597 Sawnee Drive, Cumming, 30040 

Precinct 19, Old Atlanta, Olde Atlanta Clubhouse, 5745 Olde Atlanta Parkway, Suwanee, 30024  

Precinct 21, South Forsyth, Sharon Springs Park Community Building, 1950 Sharon Road, Cumming, 30041  

Precinct 25, Windermere, Windermere Lodge, 4444 Front Nine Drive, Cumming, 30041  

Precinct 27, Concord, Concord Baptist Church, 6905 Concord Road, Cumming, 30028  

Precinct 29, Polo, Grace Chapel Church Of Christ, 6755 Majors Road, Cumming, 30040

Compiled by Keith Albertson, Shannon Casas and Nick Watsonof the Gainesville Times and Kelly Whitmire with Forsyth County News.