Jul 25, 2014
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State of the County: 'People Want to Call Forsyth Home'

"People and companies are investing in our county because they believe in it. And because they want to be a part of the Forsyth County puzzle." - Board of Commissioners Chairman R.J. (Pete) Amos

State of the County: 'People Want to Call Forsyth Home'
Patch Staff Report

At the annual State of the County event held May 1, 2014, Forsyth County Board of Commissioners Chairman R.J. (Pete) Amos presented the 2014 State of the County address.  

Click here to watch the 2014 State of the County video, which was shown during the event. The following is the text of the address delivered by Amos:


Good afternoon and welcome to the State of the County event. Thank you for being here today and for letting me provide an update on the state of Forsyth County government.

And thank you to the Chamber of Commerce and Council for Quality Growth for organizing this outstanding event.

I am honored to speak with you today alongside our School Board Chairperson, the honorable Darla Light.

I would like to recognize my fellow county commissioners with us today – Brian Tam, Todd Levent, Cindy Jones Mills and Jim Boff. I would also like to recognize County Manager Doug Derrer, Deputy County Manager Tim Merritt and all of the other county officials and employees here today.

The county government employs about thirteen hundred people who do a great job of serving our citizens, so I would like to thank them for what they do day in and day out, and for the dedicated service they provide to our community.

I would be remiss if I did not thank each of you. You are the community and business leaders who make Forsyth County what it is. You have contributed to our county’s success and you will help guide us as we move forward.

Today I’m not going to present a philosophical speech about our county. For those of you who know me, you know I’m a pretty down to earth guy. I like to get to the point.

So what I want to talk to you about today is really a fairly simple concept. Puzzles. You know, the kind we enjoyed putting together when we were kids, and then maybe we will get to enjoy again once we retire...

Puzzles are completed when a bunch of smaller pieces come together to form one big picture. When you look at just one piece, it’s hard to understand what the big picture looks like. But as the pieces come together, the full image begins to take shape.

That’s exactly what Forsyth County is all about.

It’s a number of quality services, facilities, programs and people that, together, make Forsyth County what it is... an absolutely great place to call home! So what are those pieces?

I think first and foremost is our public safety. We have dedicated men and women who work tirelessly to help protect our community.

Our 911 Center handled more than 214,000 calls for service last year. Our fire department conducted 365 child safety seat inspections last year to ensure proper installation. And nearly 400 smoke alarms or batteries were provided to seniors and residents in need. Our first responders take pride in what they do and work tirelessly around the clock to protect the community.

To support their efforts, the county places an emphasis on making sure our public safety infrastructure keeps up with the demands of our growing population.
Last year we opened Fire Station 3 in northwest Forsyth County. And I know you are all aware of the new courthouse and jail we’re building in downtown Cumming.

Our existing jail and courthouse were both constructed in 1976, when the county’s population was less than 24,000. Compare that with our latest population estimate of more than 195,000 and it’s easy to see how badly these new facilities are needed. We are on track for material completion of the new courthouse in December and hope to be moving into it in early 2015. Material completion of the new jail will follow, likely late first quarter of 2015. These two buildings will be connected by a bridge which will be a vast improvement when it comes to the secure transport of inmates between the two. We also have two parking facilities being constructed in downtown. The three-level Castleberry deck is set to open this month. We are already underway with site preparation for the Mason Street Parking Facility near the Administration Building and once the Castleberry deck opens, we will begin construction.

We appreciate everyone’s patience while these projects are completed. Our downtown will soon be very different, and we all realize we have to go through some growing pains to get there. For me it has been incredible to witness the progress that has occurred over the past 10 months and to watch these buildings take shape.

These projects are funded by the voter-approved SPLOST 7 program, so we owe our thanks to the citizens for making them possible. By approving these projects as part of the SPLOST 7 sales tax program, the voters placed a great amount of trust in Forsyth County. So for that we say thank you.

While these projects may be the most visible and high profile right now, they are not the only pieces to the puzzle.

Our new animal shelter is set to open this summer. This is another project the voters have made possible with funding coming from the SPLOST 7 program.

An extension of the Big Creek Greenway is in the works, which will add just under 3 miles to the popular multi-use trail. This work is being funded by the Parks, Recreation and Green Space Bond voters approved in 2008.

Plans are underway for additional parks to be funded by the Bond, this time in the northern portion of the county. The future Lanierland Park, Eagle’s Beak Park and

Matt Community Park at Settingdown Creek will together add more than 500 acres to our parks system.

We are planning to add six miles of new trails at Sawnee Mountain Preserve, and improvements at Charleston Park, where we will be adding 6 miles of biking and hiking trails and a new dock.

Amenities like the greenway and our great parks are no doubt part of the reason Forsyth County was recently named the healthiest county in Georgia for the second year in a row.

Education is another very important piece of the puzzle. We have an exceptional school system, and are proud to be home to campuses of both Lanier Technical College and the University of North Georgia. Our library system is amazing, especially with the opening last year of the new Post Road Library in West Forsyth County.

Another crucial piece of the puzzle? Infrastructure.

Infrastructure is critical for every community, but even more so when you experience the kind of growth we have here in the county. The most recent Census data places Forsyth County as the fastest growing county in Georgia.

Last year we completed an expansion to our Water Treatment Facility, which not only enables the county to treat additional water but also to increase our efficiency. And work is underway for the new Shakerag Water Reclamation Facility in the southern portion of the county, scheduled for completion in 2016. This project is part of our long range sewer plan and has been many years in the making.

When you talk about infrastructure, you’ve got to talk about transportation. I bet everyone in this room would agree that transportation is a key topic and one that impacts every facet of your life – from your commute to work or school to decisions about opening or expanding a business.

The SPLOST program provides funding for a number of transportation projects. But because of the downturn in the economy, SPLOST 6 fell about 50 to 60 million dollars short of original projected collections, leaving some road projects underfunded.

The Board recently approved the use of funds from reserves and other sources so that the widening and intersection improvements of Old Atlanta Road, and Mullinax/Union Hill roads could begin as soon as possible. We have heard the pleas from residents to get these road projects started and we listened.

The county is also moving forward with the plans to widen Castleberry Road to four lanes with a 20-foot raised median. Portions of the project have been a part of the county’s three most recent SPLOST referendums and the project is and has been for years a component of the county’s Comprehensive Transportation Plan.

Earlier this year, the Georgia Department of Transportation allocated one million dollars toward this work. So thank you to our state delegation for their assistance in keeping this project moving forward. We anticipate going out for bid for this project mid-summer.

There is a lot of progress being made on Bethelview Road. GDOT has the first phase of this work under construction. The county is currently acquiring the right-of-way for the second phase of the work, with the state reimbursing us for the right-of-way costs.

I think the projects on both Bethelview Road and Castleberry Road demonstrate the cooperation between the county and state when it comes to working together to improve our roadways.

From roads and fire stations to an animal shelter and new courthouse, there is no question that a lot of progress is taking place in our county. Well, undertaking these projects takes money.

I am pleased to report that Forsyth County’s finances remain solid.

We continue to be one of only three counties in the entire state of Georgia with a triple-A rating from Moody’s. Because of this exceptional rating, the county can bond important transportation, water and sewer, and public safety infrastructure improvements and projects at very low rates. This allows us to more effectively plan and build for the future.

The county’s tax rates continue to be among the lowest in the metro Atlanta area. In fact, we have had the same total millage rate for four consecutive years.

Right now we are in the early stages of developing our 2015 budget and certainly hope that we will be able to keep the total millage rate the same for another year.

Our sales tax receipts continue to show a positive trend. Total sales tax collections for 2013, which includes the new TAVT tax on vehicles in place of sales tax, were up over nine percent over 2012.

Another pattern continuing its upward trend is that of our residential building permits. Last year 2,790 new residential building permits were issued – almost 500 more than were issued in 2012.

People want to call Forsyth County home and the development you are seeing today all across the county reflects that. As the population of our county continues to grow, it is of course important that we remain focused on economic development.

The county is proud to partner with our Chamber of Commerce and Development Authority, working together to attract health care, retail, manufacturing and technology businesses, as well as international corporations, to the county.

The results of this partnership are clear. Economic development projects from last year are forecasted to create more than 600 new jobs and generate in excess of 58 million dollars in new capital investment. And since January of this year alone, our community has participated in 8 economic development projects that have already surpassed last year’s totals – generating approximately 72.4 million dollars in new capital investment.

People and companies are investing in our county because they believe in it. And because they want to be a part of the Forsyth County puzzle.

Their investment translates into tangible results that make a real difference in our community – supporting our tax base and creating jobs for our residents. And in fact, Forsyth County has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the Atlanta metro area – another statistic of which we can be proud.

So when you step back and look at Forsyth County, and you see all of the pieces of the puzzle – from public safety services and parks to education and infrastructure – that all come together, you have to ask – what is the glue that holds all of the pieces together?

It is you. Each and every one of you here today. And it is every person in this community. Every citizen. Every business owner. Every student.

You all are the most important pieces of the puzzle.

So I thank you for what you do for our community and for being a part of Forsyth County.

At this time, I would like to share with you our 2014 State of the County video which highlights just some of the exciting projects and accomplishments taking place in our county.

Video shown

I would just like to say again how much I appreciate having the chance to speak with you today and to provide an update on the state of our county.

I’ve shared with you a lot of information about our county, but now I would like to ask you to share your opinions about the county with us.

Forsyth County is undertaking a branding initiative, which is slated to include development of a new county logo. As part of this process, we are seeking community input. Please visit the county Web site at forsythco.com and take a brief branding survey. The survey will be available through next Thursday, May 8. Thank you in advance for taking a few minutes to provide us with your valuable insight.

And on behalf of the Board of Commissioners and the Forsyth County government staff, thank you for allowing us the opportunity to serve you.

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