Local and state officials hosted an open forum on Cherokee County's proposed 1% HOST tax which will be voted on during the Nov. 6 election at the Cherokee Conference Center Tuesday morning.
Cherokee Commission Chairman Buzz Ahrens gave the presentation on the proposed tax, and was supported by Clint Mueller, Legislative Director of the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, an non-profit instrument of county government.
Ahrens confirmed that if the homestead exemption and sales tax are approved (and both must be approved for the measure to take effect), all of the proceeds from the tax will go directly towards easing the property tax burden of Cherokee County property owners.
The tax will allow the county to phase out Maintenance and Operations (M&O) fees on property tax bills, with the sales tax recovering the lost income. As this tax would be collected monthly as opposed to the once-yearly property tax, Cherokee County would have more cash flow flexibility and could curtail its use of long-term tax anticipation notes.
If the referendum passes on Nov. 6, the sales tax would go into effect on April 1, 2013. The Cherokee Board of Commissioners expanded upon the spirit of the proposed tax, and has authorized the county to credit property tax bills with already-collected HOST funds in 2013 and 2014 to lessen the overall property tax burden before the legally-mandated start date of 2015.
Critics of the proposed tax have argued that HOST programs in Rockdale and DeKalb counties, the only other counties in the state with HOST, are mired in legal difficulties and have allowed governments to double-dip on taxing their citizens.
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Both counties use a different revenue distribution model than the proposed Cherokee plan; 80 percent of their HOST revenue goes to property tax relief while the remainder is used on capital projects.
Other critics have made the argument that this proposed sales tax does more to hurt Cherokee residents who do not own property. For example, a single mother who is renting her home would have a greater tax burden than she does under the current system. Mueller conceded that it would be in the woman's best interest to vote against the referendum.
Cherokee property owner and Republican Robert Chambers said that he would be voting against the referendum, although it would significantly ease his tax burden. He felt that it would be unfair to benefit from a program that would cause less fortunate people to suffer.
"It's policies like these that are driving people away from the Republicans and towards the Democrats," Chambers said.
There is a second forum upcoming to discuss this referendum. It will be held at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 4 at the Chambers at City Center, located at 8534 Main St. in downtown Woodstock.