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Forsyth County BOC votes to move forward with raise for Sheriff Ron Freeman
FCN Forsyth County Administration Building

Compensation for Sheriff Ron Freeman, funding for this year’s elections and a $2 million grant for a North Forsyth park were among items discussed at a meeting of the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners held on Tuesday, Sept. 22. 

All items were approved by a 5-0 vote unless otherwise noted. 

Sheriff’s pay 

Forsyth County Sheriff Ron Freeman is due for a pay increase in 2021, after commissioners voted to raise the county’s portion of his compensation from $15,000 to $47,900, raising his total compensation to about $153,000. His current salary is $120,000. 

District 1 Commissioner Molly Cooper, who made the motion, said officials looked at pay for seven surrounding counties, excluding Gwinnett, and their sheriffs’ salary averaged about $151,000. 

Cooper said along with being paid less, Freeman had more area to cover since, unlike other counties, the only municipality is Forsyth County is the city of Cumming. 

“Again, these counties have police departments, as well as municipalities with police departments,” Cooper said. “We have one municipality with one police department. They have numerous ones, so all of the other tasks involved fall on our sheriff’s department.” 

Pat Carson, the county’s director of county personnel, said along with the county compensation, sheriffs are paid through a combination of a salary set by the Georgia General Assembly based on the county’s population, mandated supplement, a 5% increase for the number of completed terms and a cost of living adjustment. 

Carson said under the formula, the amount for the Forsyth County Sheriff will increase by almost $10,000 once the county’s population reaches 250,000 residents. She said that would likely go into effect in 2022. 

Extra election funding 

Commissioners approved, on a time-sensitive basis, allowing the department of voter registration and elections to apply for up to $500,000 in funding through voter elections grants. 

“These funds will help ensure the department of voter registrations and elections has the needed technology, adequate staffing, training, equipment and polling places to serve every voter for the remainder 2020 election cycle safely and securely,” said Becky Whitmire, the county’s finance director. 

Mandi Smith, director of the department, said she and members of the Forsyth County Board of Voter Registrations and Elections wanted the funding to go toward: 

  • A ballot extractor for $31,000; 
  • Tents rental to cover supplies for about $10,000;  
  • Additional signage for an estimated $7,500; 
  • Up to two more absentee ballot drop boxes and personnel costs to cover retrieving those ballots; 
  • Security camera upgrades for the likely locations of the two boxes, likely county park recreation centers, for $20,000; 
  • And additional printing costs. 

Eagle’s Beak Grant 

During the meeting, commissioners also accepted a grant worth $2,250,000 from the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Program to go toward Eagle’s Beak Park at 8420 Old Federal Road.  

“This is a grant program to build natural resources parks and recreation programs, and it’s funded through the tax receipts of sporting goods companies in Georgia,” said Parks and Recreation director Jim Pryor.  

Pryor said the county applied for the grant in October 2019 and Eagle’s Beak was one of 17 projects chosen out of 109 applicants. 

“There were 22 scoring categories here, so award of the grant was based completely on how you scored, and a lot of the elements of the grant were the natural resources, the stormwater, how you’re protecting your resources, historical elements,” Pryor said. 

Pryor said a Trail of Tears education program around the river walk was a key factor for the grant. 

The local match for the grant is $767,359, which will come from landfill host fees paid to the county, which is paid by companies rather than taxpayers. 

Along with the Trial of Tears program, other upcoming imporovements to the park include: 

  • A 1.25-mile-long, 8-foot-wide gravel trail; 

  • Mixed wildflower pits; 

  • Two covered sheds; 

  • Two pavilions; 

  • An 11,000-square-foot playground area with three shaded structures and benches; 

  • A little under 12 acres of maintained green space; 

  • 201 gravel parking spaces; 

  • Riverview areas; 

  • Fencing along the roadway.