The Cherokee Board of Commissioners (BOC) held its annual planning retreat in Canton in January. The meeting was open to the public. Here’s a report on some of our discussions.
Regarding taxes, Cherokee County remains conservatively managed and financially healthy. Total BOC-controlled taxes per capita remain the lowest in the metro Atlanta region and among the lowest of all 159 Georgia counties.
We believe we can reduce the county maintenance and operations (M&O) and park bond tax rates again this year to partly offset a projected 13% average increase in property value assessments. County tax assessors are required by law to keep assessments at or near market value.
Homeowners with the homestead exemption are sheltered from assessment increases for the M&O tax, so they should see a small net reduction in that element of their tax bills. We expect the park bond tax rate to decrease enough to keep that dollar amount flat or lower. We may not be able to decrease the fire tax rate, and the homestead exemption doesn’t apply to it. So, taxpayers could see an increase in that tax equal to the increase in assessed value. The BOC doesn’t control the school tax.
The updated County Transportation Plan is substantially complete, after 2,400 citizen inputs and hundreds of hours of engineering analysis. It includes all city, county and state road improvement projects the road engineers and planners believe are necessary to support a conservative growth plan over the next 30 years. The good news is, local funding over that time appears sufficient to complete all of the identified county and city road projects. The bad news is, state funding will be short of the amount needed for state highway improvements, largely due to the year-long suspension of the gas tax. There could be some delays to state projects, but we hope they will be minor in Cherokee.
We agreed we need more workforce housing, and discussed forming a joint city-county team to look for ways to meet the need. The target would be to provide some additional housing, affordable for households with incomes less than $60,000. Those families need rent of less than $1,500 per month or a purchase price less than $270,000.
We talked about the ongoing update to the county’s Comprehensive Growth & Development Plan. I’ve been advocating for changes that would hold Cherokee’s expected population in 30 years to about 400,000 versus about 542,000, if we continue to grow at the current rate. The planners believe that with natural declines in the growth rate and sticking to the current plan, we can stay close to that reduced amount. That’s encouraging, but I’m willing to pursue changes to zoning and development regulations, if necessary, to get there.
We discussed modest strengthening to the noise ordinance to prohibit exploding fireworks after 9 p.m., except on state-designated holidays. There doesn’t appear to be an appetite on the BOC for a significantly stronger, decibel-based ordinance.
– Harry Johnston is chairman of the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners. He’s a retired CPA and accounting manager, and a former district commissioner. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.