Cherokee County citizens paid less property taxes, relative to value of property owned, in 2009, than any other county in the state, with the exception of Forsyth.
County Manager Jerry Cooper told the county Board of Commissioners at its Feb. 2 meeting that the general property tax rate has been lowered from 5.95 mills in 1999 to 4.38 mills today; a 26.4 percent reduction in the tax rate, equaling a taxpayer savings estimated at $72 million. One mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of assessed property value.
“Fiscal conservative leadership of the board of commissioners over the years has enabled the county to maintain one of the lowest general millage rates in the state,” Cooper said. “And, although property values and revenue have declined since 2008 and millions have been cut from the budget, the board of commissioners continues to be committed to maintaining low taxes without impacting essential services.”
According to a report by the Georgia Department of Revenue, “2009 Georgia County Ad Valorem Tax Digest Millage Rates,” only Forsyth’s millage is lower, at 3.834. However, Forsyth imposes a 1 percent Local Option Sales Tax.
The only counties that do not impose such as sales tax are Gwinnett, Cobb and Cherokee.
Cobb and Gwinnett counties have raised their millage rates over the past 10 years, and, during a state-of-the-county address at the meeting, Commission Chairman Buzz Ahrens warned that Cherokee may have to raise its millage rate, as well, in order to fund the 2011 budget, because county estimates show the property tax digest down by 7 to 10 percent this year.
At their last meeting, commissioners unanimously requested to the Cherokee Legislative Delegation that HB 365 be reintroduced in the 2010 session, as a possible measure to help make up for the lowered revenues. State Sen. Chip Rogers plans to sponsor the same measure in the Senate.
The bill, if passed, would allow local governments who currently do not collect sales tax up to the state cap to ask voters if they would approve a one-cent tax for local transportation projects; or the penny collected could be split and dedicated to transportation and other dedicated uses, if voters approve the one-cent tax.
Ahrens said the county may be missing out on federal grant funding because of inaccurate population data. Ahrens noted there only was a 69 percent response rate to the 2000 census, and 67 percent statewide.
“The census is really important to get good new data,” he said, urging citizens to fill out and send in the forms this spring. “The county is estimated to have grown 50 percent since last census; Metro has grown 19 percent.”
In other business, the county commission:
• voted to deny, 3-2, property owner Gordon Clement’s request for a reduction of side variance into a 50-foot buffer for an attached garage. He already has received a 35-foot variance from the county, but the county Zoning Board of Appeals turned down 10 more feet, which would bring his planned structure within 5 feet of the property line. Clement’s property is located on Westbrook Road, and the nearest house is more than 250 feet away. Neighbors wrote letters saying they did not object to the variance. However, three commissioners (Derek Good, Post 4, Karen Bosch, Post 3, and Jim Hubbard, Post 2) voted against the appeal, saying it did not show necessary hardship;
• unanimously approved a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the county school board where the school board will transfer approximately $80,000 worth of property for right of way for the Hunt Road/Priest Road connector project. The county will construct an $80,000 sanitary sewer project that will serve the school being built on the road;
• unanimously approved an agreement between Cherokee County Fire and Emergency Services and Northside Hospital-Cherokee for paramedic and emergency medical technician students to perform clinical rotations at the hospital as part of their required training;
• unanimously voted to fill five of seven unfilled, but budgeted for, positions in the county roads and bridges department to accomplish planned work; and
•unanimously approved an MOU between the county and the Regional Transit Committee recently formed by the Atlanta Regional Commission, which will coordinate financing for the Regional Transit Plan. To be a voting member, counties must provide a local fund match to stimulus funds the transit committee may receive. Hubbard said he is hesitant about the transit plan but was approving the MOU because he wanted Cherokee to have a voice in decisions the transit committee makes.