Cherokee County grand jury warns residents on HOST referendum
The grand jury made the surprising move in its latest presentments.
A Cherokee County grand jury is warning residents to take caution on the upcoming referendum to impose a one-percent sales tax to roll back property taxes.
According to the Cherokee Tribune, the grand jury asked voters to consider the ramifications of approving the HOST.
“The tax is revenue neutral to the county,” according to the document. “However, be aware the new provision is a permanent tax unless repealed and does not put in place any restrictions on changing in the millage rate or assessment value for property.”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 presentment went onto encourage residents to research the proposal and to make sure they understand the two questions on the ballot before heading to the polls on Nov. 6.
If approved, it would impose a one percent sales tax, which 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.
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.
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 have reached out to various groups and implemented several mechanisms to inform voters about the proposal. County Commission Chairman Buzz Ahrens participated in two forums to inform voters about the proposal on the ballot.
He's also spoken at city council meetings to educate city leaders and residents about the HOST. He will speak tonight at 7 p.m. with the Ball Ground City Council about the proposal.