FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — Last summer a group of south Forsyth residents met to discuss the future of the county.
By November, a group called the Sharon Springs Alliance formed and in January of this year, they announced they would study the possibility of forming a new city in the county.
The City of Sharon Springs is still just a thought, said Phillip Barlag, one of the Sharon Spring Alliance founders, but the group’s mission continues to be research and awareness.
The self-funded group says there’s been a shift and it has been partly credited to an editorial Rep. Mike Dudgeon wrote in the Forsyth County News.
Dudgeon asks if the county growth warrants new cities, or perhaps new commissioners to join the five districts, or if consolidating Forsyth County with the City of Cumming would make more sense.
“We need robust civic discussion on these topics to see if one captures the intent and will of the people,” Dudgeon writes. “I intend to lead some town halls, online forums and focus groups on this subject in the fall to discuss our governance structure.”
To become a city, the state requires a feasibility study be performed by the Carl Vinson Institute of the University of Georgia. The cities of Milton, Johns Creek and Sandy Springs in Fulton County had to go through a similar process before cityhood.
Soon after Dudgeon’s letter, a supporter contacted Barlag and said they were inspired to match every dollar raised for the feasibility study up to $1,500 dollars.
The group accepted the challenge and posted it on Facebook and not only did they beat it, but had a couple of other people matching up to $2,000.
In a 24 hour period, Sharon Springs Alliance raised $5,000.
“That along with friends and family, brings us to a point that we’re halfway there,” Barlag said, “but I’d like to think that we are just getting started.”
The feasibility study could cost as much as $30,000 and Barlag said a more specific figure will be known in the next few weeks. After the study, the issue could be put to voters to decide cityhood.
“At this point, the biggest goal is the study,” Barlag said. “The data from the study will help a more informed debate.”
Barlag said he’s thankful to all the people who have showed interest.
“People have been willing to listen, engage and donate and give us their thoughts,” he said.
In a recent study with 1,000 participants, five percent of respondents said they are well-represented by local decision makers and 74 percent predicedt that in five years the county will be worse. The results are posted on the group’s website.
“When you read the responses, it’s heartbreaking,” Barlag said. “We want to give people something where people feel they can take control of their community back and that’s a big part of why we think the city might be a benefit to residents.”
Barlag said that forming a new city will not mean increasing government, but rather increase representation.
“You can create a limited service government, or ‘city light,’” he said. “[The county] provides 11 essential services that every citizen is entitled to. We would pick the three services most needed for local control and local representation and let the county continue to provide the services as they have been.”
Examples of “city light” include Brookhaven and Peachtree Corners.
“There are pros and cons and we get to learn from other municipalities and learn what’s worked and what hasn’t, so we get a lot of data to cherry pick from and tweak the model,” Barlag said. “So for those people who ask, we don’t need a police. We are not suggesting we take on police.”
Should the county add more Commissioners?
“The only bad idea is the status quo,” he said. “A city maybe a solution, maybe it’s part of a solution. For a county our size, the average is to have six cities. I’m not saying we need six cities, but local government is an important part of our rights.”
Visit www.sharonspringsga.org for more information or email firstname.lastname@example.org.