In the annual State of the County presentation Jan. 26, I highlighted the “absolute treasure” we have in Cherokee County, with beautiful geography and an increasingly rare and precious small-town quality of life, so close to a major city.
To preserve it, the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners (BOC) has worked to control growth. And, we’ve had some success. Since 2007, when slower-growth forces gained control of the BOC, the county’s annual population growth has slowed to an average of 2.2% versus 4.5% in the 17 years before then. It’s been below 2% the last two years.
In the address, I pointed out Cherokee has the lowest BOC-controlled taxes in the metro region and the second lowest in Georgia. We have very little debt, yet our public safety services, schools and county parks programs are among the best in the state. We’ve mostly been able to keep county roads up with the growth. State highways fell behind during the high-growth era, but are slowly catching up. The county is making interim improvements to Highway 140 to keep it functioning until the state can address it.
We have several key challenges ahead. We need to continue recent progress in city-county cooperation for effective overall growth management. And, we need to keep working to attract good, local jobs, especially office jobs.
If you’d like me to speak to your group on the State of the County, just let me know.
Also, in late January, the BOC held its annual planning retreat, where county finances were discussed. We finished fiscal year 2021 in the best financial position ever, but the workforce crisis is again making it hard to find and retain public safety officers and other employees. Salaries will likely have to increase more than the usual 3% next year. Additionally, the new tax digest may have grown by double digits. We will need to roll back tax rates to offset that increase.
We discussed the upcoming November ballot referendum, asking voters to renew the SPLOST program for another six years. SPLOST is the primary funding source for local road work, public safety facilities and equipment. Now, the Cherokee County Justice Center also is in need of expansion. Without SPLOST, our property taxes would have to be significantly higher.
After a thorough briefing and discussion on current and planned road work, we agreed to use $7 million of excess current SPLOST funds to add around 28 miles to the usual road repaving program this summer.
The sheriff’s team updated us on exciting, new high technology they’re beginning to use in fighting and solving crimes. They need approximately $1 million per year to fully implement the technology. We will try to find that money in the 2023 budget.
As allowed under a new state law, we tentatively agreed to reduce the petition signature requirement to call a countywide package liquor referendum from 20% to 5% of registered voters. But, it’s still a high hurdle at around 10,000 signatures.
The retreat sessions were open to the public.
I’m always interested in your input. Email me at email@example.com.
– Harry Johnston is chairman of the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners. He’s a retired CPA and accounting manager, and a former district commissioner