The Cherokee County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday presented an overview of the proposed Homestead Option Sales Tax, or HOST, that will be on the Nov. 6 general election ballot for voters to consider.
County Commission Chairman Buzz Ahrens gave the overview of the proposal during the board’s Tuesday work session.
“This is pretty much plain vanilla,” he said, referring to his presentation.
He also said at least two educational forums are in the works toward the end of September and beginning of October. Cherokee Bank and the Cherokee Tribune will host two forums that will give residents an opportunity to learn more about the proposal.
One forum will begin at 8 a.m. Sept. 25 at the Northside Hospital-Cherokee Conference Center. Another forum is slated for 6 p.m. Oct. 4 at the Chambers at City Center in Woodstock.
Ahrens said the HOST in general is a “shift to (a) consumption tax.”
The 1 percent sales tax is used to increase the homestead exemptions to qualified properties both in unincorporated Cherokee County and in its cities, which reduces the amount of property taxes paid. The tax would be charged on the same items as state sales taxes are charged on, with the addition of groceries.
The HOST does not roll back property taxes for the fire district or school property taxes. Creation and termination of the tax can only be done by referendum.
Last year, the county commission began discussing whether it wanted to move forward with requesting authority to ask voters to consider either a HOST or a Local Option Sales Tax.
While both are similar, a LOST would allow for property tax reductions for all county properties and does not allow for receipts to be used toward capital. Under the HOST, 20 percent can be used for capital, but the commission is looking at a resolution to mark the total amount collected to roll back property taxes.
The LOST also calls for the county and the cities to agree how much would be distributed to the municipalities. Cobb, Gwinnett and Cherokee are the only counties that have neither a LOST nor HOST in place.
HOST allows for the county to first apply the roll back to residential properties that qualify for the homestead and any excess receipts would then be applied pro rata to other classes of properties, such as commercial or farm land.
The HOST is expected to generate about $30 million per year and up to 20 percent can be used for capital expenditures. However, the commission said it would waive that allowance and use 100 percent of the revenue to solely roll back property taxes.
That, Commissioner Karen Bosch said, makes the board’s proposal a “true property tax reduction.”
Both commissioners Harry Johnston and Jason Nelms said they’d support a resolution stating the fact, and encouraging future county commissioners to consider sticking by that agreement.
Ahrens said he believes that once people understand how the HOST operates, they will be supportive of the measure.
For now, he said he will inform people as if there’s a possibility the board could face hurdles in communicating with the public.
Bosch added the commission needs to focus on not only educating residents about the proposal, but also about how homeowners could apply to get the $5,000 homestead.
“It needs to be a two-fold education (process),” she said.
The commission also explored the possibility of setting up a citizens-based committee, which Johnston said he was wary of, because he didn’t want it to sounds like a sales pitch.
Johnston said the county also should be up front with the public about who the winners and losers are in the proposal. He said the homeowners are generally pegged to be the winners, while renters and business owners won’t see any immediate advantage.
“But, we do need to get the word out,” he added.