BOC Responds To Grand Jury's Call For Caution
County leaders are generally positive about the grand jury's take on the upcoming HOST referendum.
Cherokee County Commissioners are responding to calls for caution by the Cherokee County grand jury on the upcoming Nov. 6 referendum on a homestead option sales tax.
The interim grand jury issued the presentment on Monday, which "strongly urge the residents of Cherokee County to research this new proposal before the upcoming November election."
"We also urge county residents to read and understand the language of the two questions that will appear on the November ballot," it stated.
While the proposal is revenue neutral for the county, the grand jury also urged residents to "be aware the new provision is a permanent tax unless repealed and does not put in place any restrictions on changing in the millage rate or assessment value for property."
The grand jury made the presentment after speaking with Cherokee County Chief Financial Officer Janelle Funk about the proposal.
District Attorney Garry Moss said he can't speak to why the grand jury made the recommendation.
He noted Funk spoke with the grand jury for about an hour. Moss also indicated this wasn't the first time the jury has weighed in on items on the ballot. The district attorney said similar presentments "has occurred on past SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) questions."
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County Commission Chairman Buzz Ahrens had a "simple" response to the grand jury's assessment.
"Any message that gets voters to inform themselves is positive, regardless of how the message was delivered," he said.
Ahrens has been at the forefront of the county's efforts to educate voters about the HOST, participating in two forums sponsored by Cherokee Bank and the Cherokee Tribune designed to inform voters about the proposal. He's also made the rounds at city council meetings to discuss the issue. He was at the Ball Ground City Council last night to discuss the proposal.
County Commissioner Harry Johnston noted he "certainly" agreed with the grand jury's recommendation.
He reiterated that the benefit of the HOST will not be for the county government, but will be for county homeowners. Johnston noted that when he's discuss the HOST with homeowners, he's discovered that almost all are in favor of the proposal. He noted the only exception he's encountered is a homeowner who owns a "modest home, but spends an unusually large amount on taxable purchases."
"And remember that Cherokee is in the good position that we will be able to offset 100 percent of the county M&O (maintenance and operation) tax for homestead properties and have enough HOST proceeds left to offset 50 percent to 70 percent for all other properties," he said. "So it's not just homeowners that benefit. It's all property owners. Homeowners just benefit more."
County Commissioner Jim Hubbard said the misinformation being circulated by the HOST is based upon the "distrust" many residents have of politicians. He noted Cherokee County has "some honest and dedicated elected officials," and the HOST would allow the county to join in the statewide trend of counties "who use sales tax to provide tax relief for the residents."
Along with Cherokee, Cobb and Gwinnett counties are the only counties that do not use sales taxes to provide tax relief to property owners.
Hubbard said he agreed with the grand jury's statement, but "not for the same reasons."
"People should study this for themselves," he said. "There are some people using this opportunity to further their political agenda, with no regard for what is best for the residents. I believe that if people look at the true facts, this will pass by a good margin, and the people will see the tax relief on their October 2013 tax bills."
See the attached document provided by Commissioner Johnston on the proposed HOST referendum.