For the past 18 years, the Cherokee Board of Commissioners has held a two-day planning retreat to allow in-depth discussion of important initiatives and long-range plans. The retreat is an advertised, open meeting. This year, we met in the upstairs meeting room of the new Branchwater Restaurant in Canton. Some members of the public joined us. It was very productive.
We reviewed the updated long-term financial plan, and saw we will need to make some hard decisions to meet our financial objectives over the next few years. We want to hold tax rates flat, while finishing the initiatives we started this year to increase the numbers and pay of public safety personnel. To do that, we’re drawing on some of the county’s ample financial reserves this year, but we want to reduce reliance on reserves next year and end it by the following year.
We discussed capital needs for facilities and equipment to include in the next six-year, one-cent Special Purpose Local Operation Sales Tax (SPLOST) renewal. To renew the SPLOST without expiring and without a special election, it must be on the ballot next year. It should produce at least $250 million over six years, but needs are great. SPLOST is the main source of funds for local road improvements. About half the proceeds need to go for roads. The county courthouse needs to be expanded. We will fund a new parking deck and other preliminary work from the current SPLOST. The main expansion project will cost about $50 million and has to come from the next SPLOST. Park facilities need another $50 million over six years for improvements and to keep up. New fire stations and equipment need about $30 million, and sheriff’s patrol vehicles will take at least $9 million over six years to replace on a 10-year cycle. As always, the needs exceed available funds.
We outlined a new short-term rental ordinance to prevent regular homes from being rented out for large parties. We agreed we should amend the noise ordinance to make it apply earlier than midnight, as it does now. And, we outlined a change to the development regulations to make it easier to develop small rural subdivisions with up to seven very large lots. We want to encourage that type of development in rural areas.
During the past year, we’ve been looking at ways to reduce the cost of the county pension plan. At the retreat, we agreed to initiate a new plan for new employees that will reduce costs significantly over the long run. For existing employees, we agreed only to amend the plan with some win-win opportunities that actually will improve it for employees, while moderately reducing the cost.
Finally, we laid out plans to find a replacement for 20-year County Manager Jerry Cooper, when he retires this year. He’s been the key to much of our county’s great success during his era. He will be missed dearly and hard to replace.
I’m always interested in your thoughts. Please email me at email@example.com.
– Harry Johnston, chairman of the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners. He’s a retired CPA and accounting manager, and a former district commissioner.