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Sales tax split, park de-annexation proposed for LOST agreement
City Hall

UPDATE Monday, Dec. 12, 12:30 p.m.: In a meeting on Friday, Dec. 9, members of the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners approved sending local option sales tax, or LOST, terms back to the city of Cumming without a proposal to convey right-of-way on Sawnee Drive to the city of Cumming. 

The Cumming City Council will discuss the terms at a special called meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 13 at 6 p.m. at Cumming City Hall. 

Original story below

A proposed agreement between the city of Cumming and Forsyth County could set how local sales taxes are split, provide new rules for annexations and see a city park on Lake Lanier go back to the county.

At their work session on Tuesday, Dec. 6, members of the Cumming City Council voted 4-1, with Councilwoman Linda Ledbetter opposed, to send terms to Forsyth County commissioners for a local option sales tax, or LOST, for 2023 through 2032.

The agreement will be discussed at a special-called commission meeting on Friday, Dec. 9.

Under the terms of the proposal: Forsyth will receive 87% of LOST funds, the city will receive 13% and the remaining percent goes to the general fund of the state treasury; sets rules for annexations from the city to the county; sets a plan for possibly de-annexing Mary Alice Park to Forsyth County; and will have the county convey right-of-way to the city for the planned Sawnee Drive Extension project.

An agreement for impact fees, fees paid for developers for expanded use of certain amenities, was proposed but was not part of the final terms approved by the council.

The rules for annexations would require the applicant and representatives from the city and county to meet before the application is filed to discuss the rationale behind the annexation, the planned land use, impacts of the annexation on the county, whether the proposal should continue, any financial impacts of the annexation, whether the plan fits with the county’s comprehensive plan or unified development code and other items. 

Annexations have been a sticking point between the city and county following several large-acre annexations in recent years. 

During the meeting, much of the discussion focused on Mary Alice Park, the city’s only park on Lake Lanier. 

Ledbetter, who voted against the proposal, said she felt the city would be giving up land that could be used for parks. 

“It’s just sad that we’re sitting here as a city, and the only park we’ve ever had, we put an administration building on. [It is] backwards,” she said. “I just don’t understand why we would consider giving away Mary Alice Park.”

Councilman Jason Evans said while he liked having park space, the city does not financially benefit from having the park.

“I’m to the understanding that there is no way that the city can benefit financially from anything done at Mary Alice Park,” he said. “And yes, park space is nice, however, from a financial standpoint, we have ongoing costs – maintenance, infrastructure, things of that nature – that we have to address in the future. We do not have city property taxes, nor will we, so you’re going to have to generate that revenue somehow.”

Plans for Mary Alice Park have included a water park resort that was discussed more than a decade ago, around the time of the Great Recession, and did not come to fruition and more recent discussions for a resort that did not happen.

Responding to a question about the use of city parks, which also includes the Dobbs Creek Recreation Center and Cumming Recreation and Parks Department building, Mayor Troy Brumbalow said city residents make up less than 2% of users. 

“I can tell you what the number is … 98.6% of people that use our parks and recreation are not city residents, of which we lose about $1 million a year providing park and rec for basically county residents,” Brumbalow said. “That’s fine, but we have to fund that through local option sales tax because we don’t have a property tax.”

City Administrator Phil Higgins said the park does collect about $500,000 from admissions, pavilion rentals and other sources, but that money goes back into the park for personnel, maintenance and other expenses. 

“So, are we making money on Mary Alice Park? The short answer is no,” Higgins said. “We’re breaking even at best.”

Higgins added that, to his knowledge, any money made at a resort, except to pay back what the city already paid, would go to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which owns the land and leases it to the city. 

City Attorney Kevin Tallant said the corps would have to request any de-annexation.

“The Corps of Engineers has to request a de-annexation,” he said. “The Corps of Engineers had to request an annexation back when we did this, I think 2006.”