It’s a new year! And, for me, a new four-year term as chairman of Cherokee’s Board of Commissioners (BOC). It’s a natural time of looking forward and mapping plans for the future.
Traditionally, we consider goals for the upcoming year, and that’s important. This year, we’ve got to keep up our momentum on road improvements. We need to finish several building projects — one is the “Buzz,” the fabulous new indoor recreation center at Veterans Park, named for my predecessor, L.B. “Buzz” Ahrens.
Other goals include a new facility for the sheriff’s special units and the coroner. We need to get started on the new parking deck at the justice center and get ready to expand the actual court facilities. We’ll need another round of salary increases to stay competitive for quality employees, especially public safety officers. We need to do all of this while holding our place among the very lowest BOC-controlled tax rates in Georgia. Finally, we’ve got to fend off threatened state legislation that could prohibit local governments from setting quality standards for residential development and construction.
More important, we need to look further into the future and consider new ways to keep making Cherokee County the best place in the world to live. We’re already doing more than most counties to manage our growth and development and preserve our quality of life. We’ve brought our annual population growth down from 5% pre-2008 to 2% since then. But, even at that rate, we’ll grow to 460,000 in 25 years and 790,000 in 50. That’s not consistent with the small-town and rural character that makes Cherokee so great today.
What will it really take to preserve our precious lifestyle while other suburban metro counties lose theirs? How can we capitalize on recently improved city-county cooperation, to build and maintain fantastic, thriving small cities and rural countryside, all with a unique and desirable identity? If we steadily ramp our annual growth down, to reach 0.5% by 2073, we’d hold the population to 390,000 in 25 years and 456,000 in 50. At those levels, the beautiful vision most of us want still could be possible. What reasonable steps can we take to do that?
Even at a further reduced growth rate, we’ll need adequate infrastructure. We’ve already mapped out a long list of road projects needed over the next 20-plus years, but are they enough? Where will the chokepoints be, and what do we need to start planning now to address them? How will we pay for those additional improvements?
What’s the best way to pay for parks and other infrastructure needed for a great future? Can we continue to roll back tax rates each year and still pay for increases in the number of, and compensation of, public safety officers and other county services?
Clearly, we’ve got more questions than answers. But, isn’t that always true about the future? Let’s find the answers together.
– 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 email@example.com.