It’s a new year; time to set goals. It turns out my 2020 goals for the county are a lot like last year’s. They’re long-term goals, and few things are quick and easy in a political environment.
I want to get things moving on state highway projects. Construction on Highway 20 improvements didn’t get started as planned in 2019, because right-of-way acquisition has been slow. While it’s promised again this year, we need to make sure it happens.
We met with the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), trying to accelerate their plans for Highway 140. GDOT has indicated they might move up one of the three phases of that project. We think the Fulton County stretch is the most important to us. The county is preparing to make substantial interim improvements on the Cherokee section.
Expansion of the East Cherokee Drive intersection will begin soon. We’ve applied for federal funds to improve other key intersections and add two-way left-turn lanes where needed most. We’ll know in February if we’ll get those funds.
We’re working to set aside local funds for the Hickory-Batesville intersection. We can’t use federal funds there, because of a potential historical site. We need to find the money and get this work done over the next five years.
I want to improve city/county relationships. The county’s relationship with Holly Springs continues to improve. Our land-use plans are mostly in synch, and we are working together on a development master plan for the Hickory Flat business district and surrounding area.
Unfortunately, a state-required Service Delivery Strategy negotiation hasn’t gone as smoothly as hoped. We’ve had to wrestle with a contested annexation and a fire service “flare-up” with Woodstock. I remain committed to getting us all on the same team, working seamlessly together to make and keep Cherokee the very best it can be.
I want to keep property taxes low, while continuing to improve public safety and other services to keep up with growth. We added more deputies and firefighter positions to the budget, but still were able to fully roll back the county millage rate, keeping our taxes among the lowest in Georgia. We had to draw on reserves to do that, especially when medical insurance costs spiked again. We’ll be working with other key officials on a comprehensive pay-and-benefits plan to stay competitive with surrounding local governments. The likely result is higher pay, especially for deputies and firefighters. They deserve it, but it will make a full tax rollback more difficult this year.
I’ve learned things don’t happen quickly in government. Sometimes, that’s for the best. We just need commitment and persistence to keep it two steps forward and only one step back.
– Harry Johnston, chairman of the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners.