In the aftermath of voters rejecting a proposal to use sales tax revenue to reduce property taxes, Cherokee County leaders are offering their thoughts on the referendum's defeat.
County leaders said they were disappointed in Tuesday's results in which voters defeated a proposed Homestead Option Sales Tax.
Cherokee voters rejected the measure, with 36 percent, or 32,150, voting in favor while 64 percent, or 56,190, voting against the first question. On the HOST's second question, 46 percent, or 40,344, approved the measure while 54 percent, or 46,830 voted to defeat it.
The Homestead Option Sales Tax would have used revenue from the sales tax to reduce the county’s maintenance and operations portion of property taxes. It would not have applied to the school, fire district taxes and parks bond imposed by the county.
County Commission Chairman Buzz Ahrens noted voters were hesitant to approve the measure due to the county's "inability" to guarantee future commissions wouldn't raise the county's millage rate. He also noted the "confusing" ballot question may also played a role in voters not understanding the proposal in front of them.
Georgia law required two questions to be placed on the ballots and residents needed to vote yes on both in order for the referendum to pass.
The HOST enabling legislation also would have allowed the county to use up to 20 percent of the funds for capital projects. However, the Cherokee County Commission approved a resolution stating the board would have used 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 county was able to get the HOST on the ballot with the help of State Senator Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock), who supported local legislation in the Georgia General Assembly to allow the county to call for a referendum. Patch reached out to Rogers to get his reaction to the HOST's defeat, but he did not return emails for comment.
The proposal was met with pushback from local residents, many of whom who voiced concerns about the county being unable to guarantee it would not raise its millage rate in the future and if future commissioners would solely use the money to rollback property taxes.
Commissioners Karen Bosch and Jason Nelms also lamented the HOST's defeat. Nelms noted the HOST was a move towards a consumption tax that would have eased the burden on existing homeowners.
Bosch added she was "disappointed" to see the HOST fail as the county would not have monetarily benefited from the new sales tax.
"This in no way benefited the government as it was revenue neutral, since all revenue was credited back to the homeowners as a reduction in their property taxes," she added. "It could have also been a huge benefit for seniors."
Commissioner Harry Johnston noted the HOST should have been a "no-brainer, as it clearly would have benefited most taxpayers in the county."
Johnston also noted the "mistrust" of the county commission stemming from the Ball Ground Recycling controversy could have fueled the fire against the proposal, which he said "has been expertly and effectively fueled by a small group that got mad at us for continuing with the parks expansion program."
"Except for diversifying the county's revenue sources and spreading the receipts out more evenly over the year, the HOST wouldn't have provided any financial benefit to the county government," he added. "Total county revenues would be exactly the same, with or without it. It was strictly for the benefit of the taxpayers."
Commissioner Jim Hubbard agreed, adding the county presented "true numbers and policies," none of which made an impact on voters.
"There was a lot of very emotional false information about the HOST, all assuming that the commissioners can't be trusted," he said.
Despite the HOST's defeat, county leaders said they most likely won't try again to put the referendum on the ballot. They also said it's even less likely they would pursue a Local Option Sales Tax, or LOST.
A LOST would apply to all county properties, but does not allow for the proceeds to be used towards capital expenditures. Also, a LOST would call for the county and cities to agree on how much would be distributed to municipalities.
Hubbard noted he feels the HOST is a "much fairer way to collect and distribute the funds" as opposed to implementing a LOST.
Even in the face of the HOST's failure to pass, at least one commissioner did point out the bright side for county residents.
"The important good news is that, in spite of being one of just three counties in Georgia without a sales tax to support county operations, our property taxes will remain among the lowest in Georgia," Johnston noted.