SPLOST VII, subject of the Nov. 8 election, is about continuing a one penny sales tax that has been repeatedly affirmed by Forsyth County voters for the last 28 years. Many of the infrastructure improvements and capital projects that attracted people to locate their homes and businesses here are directly attributable to past SPLOST votes.
We have an opportunity to further invest in our county’s future by approving the continuation of this penny tax. The expansion of the detention center and court facility is needed now, not sometime in the future. The unsafe and inefficient aspects of these critical law and justice components have been well documented. And although the economy has slowed our growth, we still are growing and need to stay ahead of the curve with transportation infrastructure. Waiting until economic conditions improve to take up consideration of these needs is “kicking the can down the road” when we have the opportunity now to assure improvements for our community. Continuation of this penny tax is the most sound and least painful way to finance Forsyth County’s future.
Even in difficult times, we enjoy the lowest unemployment rate in the region and economic prosperity that other parts of the region and nation are not experiencing. I hope our community has the good sense to stay on track and continue to invest in infrastructure that makes us a great community. A yes vote for SPLOST VII will keep Forsyth a top-tier county poised for an even better future.
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As a strong supporter of the tea party, I’m voting for SPLOST. At a time when spending is critical, it’s important we spend our money wisely rather than being penny wise and dollar foolish.
Remember, this is not a 1 percent tax increase, but an extension of SPLOST. Voting for SPLOST means that these needed road repairs, widenings, jail expansion and more are nearly 40 percent paid for by people outside our county through this sales tax.
It’s no wonder people of Forsyth have such low taxes, great roads and a desirable community because we were wise enough to utilize SPLOST since 1983. It’s a no brainer.
This SPLOST also pays for a larger jail. When I visited the jail I was appalled at the tiny space and crowded, dangerous conditions for our officers who work there. I feel I was in a jail in the Wild West.
Get this, we are a cash cow for other counties where we spend something close to $3 million a year for them to house our prisoners because we don’t have room. That’s our money.
I also can’t begin to tell anyone how we are so jammed up in our court system with a backlog that is ridiculous. Why? There is no room ... and we have authority to get another judge, but no place to put one.
Bottom line, if we don’t get an expanded jail and courthouse, it’s most likely a state of Georgia judge will order us to get one as they’ve done in other counties. Then we foot the entire bill and there will be no sales tax to help. Then let the anti-SPLOST folks explain that. Not to mention the lost road work and many other projects.
People on both sides of this issue are sincere, but we have to vote wisely and for SPLOST.
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We, the Forsyth County Democratic Party, understand the necessity and support taxes when these items are needed to maintain the quality of life in the county.
We, the Forsyth County Democratic Party, support a special local option sales tax as a fair method of collecting revenue as opposed to just property tax increases.
We, the Forsyth County Democratic Party, support the proposed SPLOST VII because:
1. The main investment is the courthouse, jail expansion and emergency raw water generator. The court system needs additional space urgently. Currently there are not enough courtrooms for the various justice organizations to operate. We are trying to operate a county government using court and jail facilities designed for a county of 20,000-30,000 residents when we have become a county of 180,000 people. And by the time the courthouse and jail are built and occupied we could easily be a county of more than 200,000 people.
2. There are some road improvements, bike paths, new truck replacements for fire department as scheduled, expansion and renovation of Sharon Forks library and an animal shelter. Postponing these decisions would yield probably higher capital costs in the future.
3. The main reason to finance the A list now is that construction costs (including land) are probably lower than they will be in the future. Interest rates are also very low and our bond rating is pretty high (which tends to reduce debt service costs vs. other counties with lower rating). Cost of land and interest rates cannot stay low for the long term. At the earliest this project will start in 2013.
4. The audited reports for the 2010 Financial Reporting period reflect that the generally accepted accounting procedures are now being more strictly followed — even in the statements made by the auditors in areas that needed improvement showed that strict accounting of the various funds is being implemented. Debt repayment for bonds/general obligations/certificates of participation/lease obligations are taking place and we are within the legal debt ceiling margins. Debt service and debt repayment are scheduled to drop after 2015.
Sharon Gunter, Chairwoman
Forsyth County Democratic Party
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I write to provide a lawyer’s perspective on why I am voting for SPLOST VII. Unlike those who suggest we don’t need a new courthouse and expanded jail, I work in the courthouse and jail nearly every day. Both were built in the 1970s when Forsyth County had a population of less than 28,000. These facilities now serve nearly 180,000 residents. In just my 10 years of criminal litigation practice in Forsyth County, I have seen this county grow exponentially (78 percent). Our courthouse and jail have failed to keep up with this growth.
Magistrate Court, Probate Court, the District Attorney’s office, and the Solicitor’s Office left the courthouse after they ran out of space. The jury assembly room was converted into a courtroom which can generally only be used in civil cases because there is no holding cell. The grand jury room was converted into a courtroom the size of a walk-in closet, also with no holding cell. This means that prisoners are escorted in and out of court right past the jurors who are being empanelled to try their cases. It is a security nightmare for anyone in the courthouse.
Based on our current caseload, our two Superior Court judges are shouldering the work of 3.5 Superior Court judges. Consequently, Forsyth County is first in line of all counties in Georgia to receive funding for a third Superior Court judge. However, there is no space in our current courthouse for this judge to have an office and a courtroom. Superior Court has exclusive jurisdiction for the most serious criminal offenses, including rape and murder.
Why now? There have been over 20 grand jury presentments who have recommended construction of a new courthouse and jail, dating back to 1998. If we were out of space in 1998 when our population was less than 98,000, how much more are we out of space in 2011 when our population is nearly 180,000!
Must we wait for the next Brian Nichols before we decide that our elected judges, officials, jurors, and citizens deserve better security?
Parker McFarland, President
Forsyth County Bar Association