County Continues HOST Information Push
The proposed one-percent sales tax will be on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Cherokee County leaders continue the push out information on a proposed one-percent sales tax voters will consider on Nov. 6.
County Commission Chairman Buzz Ahrens participated in two forums with Cherokee Bank and Cherokee Tribune to inform voters about the proposal. Ahrens is also making the rounds to make presentations during city council meetings.
Ahrens presented his measure to Woodstock leaders on Monday and will be at the Ball Ground City Council meeting Thursday at 7 p.m. to discuss the proposal.
The chairman noted he felt the forums "have done their jobs" and most participants asked good questions. One of the major hurdles is informing voters that the tax is not "asking for a new single dollar."
Ahrens said the proposal simply replaces one revenue source with another.
"We are saying that this is a different revenue source that directly impacts (by reducing) the real property taxes our residents pay," he added.
Dennis Burnette, president and CEO of Cherokee Bank, said the primary objective of both forums was to present information to voters, not to sway them one way or another on the matter.
Burnette added he felt both forums gave voters the opportunity to learn about the proposal on the Nov. 6 ballot.
"The presenters did an excellent job of presenting a very complicated matter in as simple terms as possible," he said. "Even more important, they listened, empathized and sought to understand."
A slideshow of the presentation can be found here.
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Commissioner Harry Johnston added he felt the forums were "informative," but did not draw a lot of people.
"Some of those who did were from the "just-say-no-to-everything" faction within the Tea Party," he said, referring to some of the attendees. "But I think most people, including most Tea Party members, want to move toward consumption-based taxes and away from property taxes. And that's exactly what HOST does."
Ahrens on Monday said the proposal reflects an effort across the state to implement property tax reform. The county commission garnered the support of Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock), an ardent supporter of property tax reform, in its quest to place the referendum on the ballot. Rogers was the chief sponsor of the bill during the 2012 legislative session to allow the county to place the matter on the ballot.
The measure will be on the Nov. 6 general election ballot and, if approved, would impose a one percent sales tax. The revenue would be used to rollback the county’s M&O property taxes. It does not apply to the school, fire district taxes and parks bond imposed by the county. Nor does it apply to city property taxes.
Georgia law requires two questions to be placed on the ballots and residents have to vote yes on both in order for it to pass. Once enacted, the HOST does not have a sunset provision; it can only be terminated by referendum.
The law allows the county to use up to 20 percent of the funds for capital purposes. However, the Cherokee County Commission approved a resolution stating the board will use 100 percent of the proceeds to roll back property taxes as long as a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax program is in place.
No more than five acres on a qualified property would be eligible to receive the credit. In other words, a 12-acre property would only be allowed to receive the credit for up to five acres. The seven other acres would be treated as non-homesteaded property.
The tax is expected to generate around $30 million in revenue per year and county officials estimate that number would offset 100 percent of the county's M&O portion of the tax bill on homesteaded properties. It would offset roughly 70 percent of M&O taxes on other properties.
A home in the county that's worth about $155,000 would save about $335 per year if the HOST is implemented, according to county estimates.
If voters approve the HOST, the tax would be officially implemented in April 2013. The state allows the county to collect revenue from the tax for a partial year and then a full calendar year before applying the credits.
However, the county commission in a resolution stipulated it would start applying the offsets immediately and would use all funds collected through 30 days before the county commission sets its millage rate during those first two years of collections.
County leaders do feel most voters, when provided with the information, understand the proposal in front of them.
"I think the truth is getting out, and people are asking about it, but the false information is being talked about too," Commissioner Jim Hubbard said.
Hubbard was referring to a power point presentation being circulated by the now-defunct Review and Recommendations Committee To Assist County Government.
In the power point, the committee encourages residents to vote against the proposal. They charge the county will collect millions in revenue before dispersing the exemptions and will subsequently use the revenue to pay for capital expenses, both of which county leaders deny.
Johnston added he believes the "intentional" misinformation being spread by the committee will be the primary obstacle leaders will have to overcome to get through to voters. Saying there's "no logical reason for property owners to oppose" the HOST, Johnston added the proposal will result in almost all homeowners paying lower property taxes.
"Except for diversifying the revenue stream and spreading it more equally across the year, the county government gains nothing by implementing HOST," he said. "This is strictly something to benefit the taxpayers."