With the end of this election cycle in sight, it’s a great time to look ahead and consider how to keep Cherokee County great! The goals don’t change, but we’re always looking for better ways to achieve them.
Goal 1: Manage and control growth to protect quality of life.
Cherokee is an exceptionally desirable place to live. People want to move here. That’s good, but too much growth will destroy that desirability. Through conservative planning and zoning, we’ve brought the countywide population growth down to about 2% per year. And, we’re working better with our cities to coordinate growth management.
An update to the county’s Comprehensive Plan, done every five years, begins this year. It’s an opportunity to refine ways to keep our growth moderate. It may be our last good chance to bring planned densities down in some of our densest areas across south Cherokee, and to hold the line elsewhere. We have the opportunity to improve commercial development standards to give unincorporated commercial centers a higher-quality look and feel. We can finalize a growth boundary agreement with Holly Springs, and more fully coordinate our development planning with all the cities.
Goal 2: Keep infrastructure and services up with the growth.
Roads are always top of the list here. The state has stepped up with big help on Highway 20, and is coming soon on Bells Ferry Road. We need to lock down their eventual help on Highway 140, and complete county-sponsored interim improvements there. We need some new roads, and existing county roads need ongoing expansion.
The Justice Center is bursting at the seams; we’ve got to expand it. Also, we’ve got to keep expanding our public safety facilities and staffing. Our fire department has made amazing progress since the all-volunteer days just 22 years ago, but some of the old stations need modernization or replacement with professional, quality facilities.
Our sheriff’s office is one of the nation’s finest, but the patrol staffing hasn’t kept up with population growth. To catch up, we have to make their salaries very competitive. It’s not easy, with other jurisdictions working to do the same. We just took a big step and brought our police salaries near the top in the region. That included accelerating next year’s cost-of-living raise to this year, so we won’t stay at the top for long. But, it should help fill persistent vacancies. Then we’ll need to add new positions.
Goal 3: Keep taxes lowest in the region and in Georgia.
Recent inflation in salaries and materials has hit the county budget hard. And, with lower growth, we can’t divert growth revenues to cover inflation. But, I believe we will get through the current tax-rate-setting cycle with our low-tax position intact versus other counties.
Almost every county in Georgia has a SPLOST. It’s critical that we get the current county SPLOST renewed this fall for another six years. It pays for substantially all local road work, new and refurbished county buildings, parks, and even fire trucks and police vehicles. Without it, our property taxes would have to be significantly higher.
As always, I’m interested in your thoughts. Please 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.