Changes to Forsyth County’s pandemic response, the latest of next year’s budget and moving on from a proposed park project on Lake Lanier were among items discussed by county commissioners at their work session on Tuesday, Oct. 13.
All items were approved 5-0 unless otherwise noted.
After adopting a resolution in March to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, commissioners decided at the meeting to continue with some of the resolution’s changes and move away from others.
Among the changes would be moving the commission’s work sessions, which are currently being held by video call, back to the administration building, though County Attorney Ken Jarrard said the public would still be able to take part in the meetings virtually.
“This resolution provides that we will provide opportunities for individuals to not only watch, which we have done for a long time but also participate,” Jarrard said.
“I dropped a footnote of Page 2 [of the resolution], that said remote participation options will only be allowed for when we have otherwise citizen participation options: the ability to speak at public comment or perhaps the ability to engage the board at public hearings,” he said.
Under the change, penalties, fines and shut-offs for the county’s water and sewer department will be discontinued and will return to the pre-COVID-19 standards.
Extra signage for businesses, waiving penalties and fines on occupation tax and not requiring alcohol sales permit renewals, all approved as part of the original response, will also go back to normal, and there will be a grace period until Nov. 9 for businesses to prepare.
Jarrard said, “One major thing we are not pulling back on is to-go alcohol,” since the change has been popular and restaurants are continuing to struggle.
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During the meeting, commissioners heard a presentation of the 2021 budget from county CFO Dave Gruen, who said it was “one of the three remaining steps for adopting the budget.
Per the presentation, the general fund budget will be balanced at $151,830,72, which Gruen said “is a 1.4% over the adopted budget from 2020 [of $149,692,067.]”
Gruen said the budget factored in a 5% reduction for sales tax revenues compared to the 2020 budget.
“This year, though, our collections are still ahead of last year, 2019, so I think you can see we are highly confident that at this reduced level, we should be in good shape through next year, whatever shape the economy comes out of this year in, and other revenues have been budgeted accordingly,” he said.
The budget includes 21 new positions to be funded by the county’s general fund, eight new positions for other funds, two positions through the fire fund, five outdoor weather sirens through the general fund and a 2% cost-of-living adjustment for salaries and compensation.
Commissioners approved holding a public hearing at their meeting on Thursday, Nov. 5, and the budget will be able to be adopted at the Thursday, Nov. 19 meeting.
Back to the corps
The license for a proposed park on Lake Lanier will go back to under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Commissioners approved the ending of the license after Parks and Recreation Director Jim Pryor said his department was not able to find an appropriate use for the land of Athens Park, located on Athens Road, which has been considered for a public safety use.
“It would be quite a challenge for us to develop that park into anything useful,” said Chairwoman Laura Semanson, who represents the area. “We’ve wanted to do that in the past. There doesn’t appear to be any kind of a use for fire or sheriff there, so I support what Mr. Pryor has presented to us.”
Jarrard said the county received use of the land after litigation with the corps in the early 2000s over Bethel Park.
Several officials said if there were no plans, it didn’t make sense for the county to continue maintenance and having liability over the land.
“The calls that I get, which I don’t get a lot, but the ones that I have gotten regarding Athens Park have typically been ones in terms of just more vandal, nefarious types of activities going on there,” Semanson said.