The Cherokee Board of Commissioners listened to the comments as part of a scheduled public hearing, where citizens were invited to speak about the proposed 2013 Fiscal Year budget, which is a $3.1 million, or 1.6 percent, increase over the present fiscal year.
The commission is scheduled to vote on the budget on Nov. 6.
David Hodges of Canton took issue with several expenditures – including attorney fees, capital projects and the sheriff’s office budget – that he said begged for better management.
“I’d like to see a real reduction of spending,” Hodges said. “Your revenue levels from 2007 have gone down to today, but your spending levels have increased every year.”
Next to speak were Canton Tea Party members Carolyn Cosby of Ball Ground and John Highland of Woodstock, who also chastised the four commissioners, who listened quietly. Commissioner Jason Nelms was absent.
Cosby, tea party chairwoman, said the county needs to cut longterm spending, which she said would require eliminating “non-essential programs” that are unrelated to police, fire or schools. She also questioned the need and costs for police security surrounding commission meetings.
“The citizens are asking you to devise a budget that is planned to cut spending and thus taxes,” said Cosby.
“2014 is shaping up to be a very tough year. As the speaker before me said, I think we’re going to look at about a $4 million loss in revenue and I think we could look at probably a $5 or $6 million shortfall, and it could even be worst than that.”
Highland said he didn’t understand how the state is able to reduce spending, while the county government seems unable to do so. Gov. Nathan Deal has instructed state agencies to cut their budgets by 3 percent for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2013, which ends June 30, and Fiscal Year 2014.
Earlier at the agenda meeting, county Chief Financial Officer Janelle Funk gave a presentation of various components of the budget.
She explained that capital spending – which includes SPLOST and park bond projects – was the main factor in the overall budget’s increase. The proposed budget calls for a $4.9 million, or 6.7 percent, capital spending increase.
“It’s capital adjustment spending that is actually driving this increase,” Funk said. “Capital spending is related to the budget plan, the timing set to complete projects as the funding is available. It depends on resources available.”
But Funk also noted that the county’s tax digest and other revenue sources have declined, which has made it difficult to maintain the same level of services each year.
Commission Chairman Buzz Ahrens added that the county’s population over the past five years has substantially increased as well, contributing to the burden of providing services.
Funk also clarified that the county is adding five full-time and 70 part-time positions, mostly for the new aquatic center, under the proposed budget.
During the separate public comment portion of the meeting, Hodges questioned how much revenue the county could realistically expect to collect if voters in the county pass the proposed Homestead Option Sales Tax on Nov. 6. Officials expect the 1 percent sales tax – designed to reduce property taxes in Cherokee County – to produce $30 million annually.
“It just seems like more taxes,” said Hodges.
In an aside note at the meeting, Ahrens said he recently discovered anti-HOST literature on his vehicle’s windshield at an event, which contained incorrect facts. Among other information, the literature stated that sales taxes are falling, property taxes will still rise in spite of HOST’s passage, and that commissioners are not to be trusted following the failed Ball Ground Recycling deal.
Ahrens disputed the assertions in the literature. He said that sales taxes in the county have increased by 3 percent from 2010 to 2011 and almost 5 percent from 2011 to 2012. And both foreclosures and unemployment have declined in Cherokee, said Ahrens, contrary to the literature.
A Facebook website address listed on the literature links to an organization page called “Cherokee Informed Voter” that had just one post and seven “likes,” as of Wednesday afternoon.
In other business, Ahrens announced that all open records requests – including related information such as who made each request and its topic – will soon be made available on the county’s website.
Ahrens also announced that Cherokee Office of Economic Development board member Randy Gravley has declined reappointment, which leaves an open position for those interested in serving.
The Cherokee Board of Commissioners also:
* Approved 4-0 a budget amendment for the county Fire Department to accept insurance monies in the amount of $2,476.92 for repairs due to a no-fault accident involving a fire truck;
* Approved 4-0 final acceptance of all public rights-of-way, roadways and appurtenant drainage structures in Woodmont Subdivision Unit 12B;
* Approved 4-0 a request from the state Department of Transportation to execute a quit-claim deed that adds portions of Hickory Road and Batesville Road back to county maintenance now that construction of the intersection improvement of SR 140 and Hickory Road/Batesville Road has been completed and accepted;
* Approved 4-0 to set a public hearing for Nov. 20 to hear proposed changes to amend Chapter 10 of the Cherokee County Code of Ordinances related to the regulation of dangerous dogs and vicious dogs to conform to the changes in state law, effective July 1, 2012;
* Approved 4-0 to surplus old iPads for $250 from the county Solicitor’s Office;
Agreed 4-0 to accept an amendment to the construction contract with Catamount for the Law Enforcement Training Center in the amount of $85,989;
* Agreed 4-0 to extend the 2011-2012 Professional Services Agreement between the county and Communit-Y Health Network for the continued provision of wellness services to employees for the remaining three months of 2012 and renewal of the program for 2013, as recommended by the Benefit Committee;
n Approved 4-0 a clinical contract agreement with Northside Hospital Inc. to allow the new paramedic class to perform skills required for graduation and licensure as a paramedic in Georgia;
* Approved 4-0 to renew a contract with DECA, AMR Business Products Inc. of Marietta to provide software support and maintenance for the 24-hour recording equipment in the 9-1-1 Center in the amount of $7,354;
n Approved 4-0 to award a Professional Services agreement to sole bidder, Georgia Fire and Rescue Supply, for firefighting helmets at an amount not to exceed $178.25 per helmet. Chief Tim Prather said the price was fair;
* Approved 4-0 to surplus existing mobile home, garage and screened porch located at 2261 Sixes Road on parcel acquired (Babb Parcel) to expand parking and amenities for Blanket’s Creek Bike Trails;
* Approved 4-0 the Policies and Procedures Volunteer Handbook for Cherokee Recreation and Parks Agency volunteers as approved by the Recreation and Parks Advisory Board in September; and
* Approved 4-0 amendment one to the contract dated June 21, 2004, with Schindler Elevator Corp. for an additional 60 month-term for a savings of $1,915.14 per quarter annualized at $7,660.56 after renegotiation by the county Sheriff’s Office.