Most years, the annual State of the County address has featured the chair of the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners going over accomplishments for the last year and plans for the future.
While Chairwoman Laura Semanson did give those remarks at this year’s State of the County on Tuesday at the Forsyth Conference Center, she was also joined by the other four county commissioners to answer some questions from James McCoy, president and CEO of the Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce, which hosted the event along with the Rotary Club of South Forsyth County.
Since the entire board was present and discussing county matters, commissioners had to formally call a meeting before taking questions.
Here’s how commissioners responded.
McCoy pointed out that Lake Lanier had seen huge fluctuations in recent years and was currently near record levels. With that in mind, he asked District 3 Commissioner Todd Levent what the county was doing to meet the county’s water needs going forward.
Levent said the question was “probably going to be the most difficult question of the day” and said the county was trying to secure its own permit to draw water out of the lake, rather than using the city of Cumming.
“Something I have been absolutely passionate about is getting our own intake into the lake,” Levent said. “The redundancy of that is super important. In case something ever fails of theirs, we need a second pipe for water. We probably have about four days of reserve in our reserve tanks, that’s about it.”
He said there was “almost an agreement” between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is over the lake, and the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.
District 4 Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills said her question on how future road improvements will be paid for was as tough of a question as Levent’s.
Mills said the county learned coming out of the recession that the Georgia Department of Transportation was more likely to help with projects when local governments were able to put some money up for design plans.
In 2014, Forsyth County voters approved a $200 million transportation bond, with a number of projects around the county, including new lanes on both sides of Ga. 400.
Using an example of a proposed project to connect Hwy. 306 and Ga. 400 to a planned industrial park, which would keep trucks out of busy roadways like Hammonds Crossing, she said the county is looking at several options to fund projects.
“It’s things like that that we spend a lot of time thinking about, and how do we get there,” Mills said. “Do we do a [transportation SPLOST], do you ask the voters if they would rather have sales tax another penny or they can have a bond or they can have nothing and we won’t be as aggressive as dealing with the situation. But roads are integral to the success of our community, to keep us moving forward, and we can’t stay in one place and expect to be the community we want to be.”
She said in a meeting with GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurry earlier this week he said over $500 million in local projects would be spent over the next five years.
District 1 Commissioner Molly Cooper’s question related to affordable housing, which has been a big topic in recent years and, as Cooper pointed out, the definition is a bit of a moving target.
“Affordable housing, that’s really [relative], because what’s affordable to one person is not affordable to another,” Cooper said. “To start with, it’s important that we narrow that down to what we’re actually talking about.”
She said the county followed the Unified Development Code when it came to appropriate zonings for different areas of the county and it was up to developers to bring forward projects, who are dealing with their own bottom line.
“We don’t set price points at all on how much a dwelling costs, we just follow that and try to make the best decision that is the most advantageous to the county,” she said. “If you go and try to get federal funding, there are more tentacles to that.”
Over the last few years, government and business leaders have actively pursued economic development and high-paying jobs for the county, particularly those in the technology sector.
District 2 Commissioner Dennis Brown was asked what the county was doing to pursue financial technology, or fintech, jobs, a major target for local leaders.
Brown joked that compared to the others he had “the softball question” and said that Forward Forsyth – a partnership between the county, the chamber and the county development authority – and chamber economic development efforts played a huge role in recruitment.
“They’re always out there on the road. They’re in Germany, they’re in Switzerland, they’re in Japan, and they’re out there selling Forsyth County,” Brown said.
He said he supports efforts by Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan to make Georgia “the Silicon Valley of the east coast.”
Future of Forsyth
After detailing the county’s busy year in earlier remarks, Semanson got the afternoon’s last question and was asked by McCoy to say how that progress would impact Forsyth County.
Semanson said she wanted to make sure the county was working in a collaborative manner with state and national agencies, local departments and “making sure we’re all on the same page.”
She said those relationships would be important as Forsyth moved from what it traditionally had been to what it will be in the future.
“We’re no longer a rural community,” Semanson said. “We were discovered, people moved here. Now that people have moved here, what’s the next step for Forsyth County? And for me, Forsyth County … is not being defined as what our relationship is with respect to Atlanta or Alpharetta or Gwinnett or the mountains. Forsyth County is coming into its own.
“And I think collectively working with our business community, with our residents that live here, with our board [of commissioners], with all of our other supporting agencies and organizations, that we will continue to move the ball forward and continue to craft what it is to be in Forsyth County, what it is to work here, play here, that we are not a subset of something else: we are Forsyth.”