FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — Forsyth County officials are considering eliminating some of the provisions it has allowed under its COVID-19 pandemic resolution. The Board of Commissioners began talks Oct. 8 to determine which allowances under the emergency declaration could soon end.
The emergency resolution, which has been in place since March, loosened some of the county’s own regulations, allowed for more county business to be conducted remotely, and gave accommodations for businesses and residents hit financially by the pandemic-induced economic crash.
To attempt to boost the local business community, the ordinance eases restrictions on temporary signage, allows companies with alcohol licenses for on-site consumption to sell beer and wine to-go, and provides waivers for alcohol sales, server permits and occupational tax penalties. The ordinance also allows a waiver of late fees for utility payments.
The declaration also allows for modifications to county business, allowing for remote work sessions, digital bid openings for projects and the online submission of planning and development permits.
Chris Grimes, county emergency management director, and County Attorney Ken Jarrard met to discuss which allowances the county should roll back. They presented their findings to commissioners.
The talks were spurred by what Grimes called a significant drop in COVID-19 cases in the county from its peak around Independence Day.
The recommendations include the removal of the utility payment waiver, temporary signage allowance and to resume reissuing alcohol sales and server permits, all beginning Nov. 9. To-go beer and wine sales, remote bid openings and the digital submission of certain development permits would continue as suggested by the county officials.
Ending remote work sessions is also on the table.
“I got the sense at the [Board of Commissioner’s] retreat…we want to go back to in-person work sessions as well,” Jarrard said.
Several commissioners voiced their support for returning to in-person meetings, especially given issues of remote public comment experienced in recent Zoning Board of Appeals meetings.
Several commissioners said that the county has had ample time to address such problems since remote meetings began at the onset of the pandemic’s arrival to the area earlier this year.
“We can do this better,” Commissioner Todd Levent said.
District 4 representative Cindy Jones Mills said she could feel “uncomfortable” discussing a controversial issue during a meeting without all the participants able to talk in the same room.
Commission Chair Laura Semanson said it is not as simple as having a blanket return of all the county’s committees to face-to-face meetings.
“We still have limitations on the number of people allowed in the room,” Semanson said. “We could have to stage people in the lobby area…we must be cognizant of those stipulations.”
However, there is no substitute for live, in-person meetings, Semanson added.
If the county extends the option of remote public comment and cannot deliver, it should be eliminated as an option, Jarrard said.
The Board of Commissioners are scheduled to continue discussing its emergency ordinance at the Oct. 13 work session.