Cherokee delegation meets with local municipal leaders
by Erin Dentmon
December 08, 2012 12:11 AM | 3304 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
State legislators representing areas of Cherokee County met with county and city government officials on Thursday afternoon. Above: Cherokee County Manager Jerry Cooper speaks out on local issues during the meeting.<br>Staff/Todd Hull
State legislators representing areas of Cherokee County met with county and city government officials on Thursday afternoon. Above: Cherokee County Manager Jerry Cooper speaks out on local issues during the meeting.
Staff/Todd Hull
Cherokee County’s local delegation of the Georgia General Assembly met with local leaders and the public in meetings at The Bluffs on Thursday.

State Reps. Calvin Hill (R-Hickory Flat), Sean Jerguson (R-Holly Springs) and John Carson (R-Marietta), Reps.-elect Michael Caldwell (R-Woodstock) and Mandi Ballinger (R-Canton), Sens. Barry Loudermilk (R-Cassville) and John Albers (R-Roswell) attended.

Cherokee County Board of Commissioners

The Cherokee County Board of Commissioners brought several concerns to the local delegation.

Commission Chairman Buzz Ahrens asked the delegation to change the state code so neither a county nor city could guarantee a private industry bond in the future.

“It won’t happen here again. I can tell you that,” he said.

“We’re asking you to take the gun out of our hands so we can’t shoot ourselves in the foot,” Commissioner Harry Johnston said.

County Manager Jerry Cooper brought up unfunded mandates from the state that must be paid for by cities and counties, using the county jail as an example.

Cooper said stormwater regulations have also been expensive for the county.

“If we didn’t have to do the extensive monitoring and the such, we could do away with some of those expenses,” he said.

Hill said the first step to solving the problem of unfunded mandates is to stop adding new ones, then start chipping away at existing mandates.

“We need to see if we can back out of this anyway we can, and judicial reform may be part of that,” Hill said, regarding spending on inmates.

Jerguson said allowing judges to have more discretion in sentencing could help ease jail funding problems.

“We need judges’ discretion as opposed to mandates,” he said.

Cooper told the legislative delegation that alternative programs such as DUI court have been “very effective” in Cherokee County.

Ahrens addressed the state laws requiring hospitals to file a certificate of need before building new facilities.

“This is a big deal. It’s so archaic, so anti-competitive,” he said.

Jerguson called the requirements “asinine.”

“We saw it with WellStar and Northside. It’s not good for the public,” he said.

Ahrens also asked the delegation to look into improving enabling legislation for the Homestead Option Sales Tax.

“The existing legislation is very, very cumbersome,” he said, adding that there is no clear path for counties that wish to transition from a Local Option Sales Tax to a Homestead Option Sales Tax.

Commissioners Jason Nelms and Jim Hubbard also attended to represent the county.

City of Holly Springs

Holly Springs City Manager Rob Logan brought forth a request for a referendum on property tax exemptions for the permanently medically disabled. Logan said the exemption, if passed by Holly Springs voters through a referendum, would allow an exemption of $80,000 in assessed value on homestead properties.

Logan also presented the city’s interest in the establishment of wards, as well as changing the election cycle of one city council seat. A vote on these matters passed 3-2 at the most recent Holly Springs City Council meeting. Local delegation bylaws state that the delegation will only consider local matters that have been approved unanimously by the local governing body.

Jerguson said he wasn’t sure whether the state needs to be involved in the changes at all.

“There is a question about whether or not this is part of reapportionment. Under state law, municipalities submit their own reapportionment. We need to research this,” he said.

City of Waleska

Waleska Mayor Doris Jones and City Council members Mary Helen Lamb and Paul Ice told the delegation they had concerns about the process of filing campaign disclosures.

Jones said a training event for filing the disclosures left her with more questions than answers.

Lamb said she was charged two fines for not filing within the appropriate time frame because of an administrative error within the Campaign Finance Commission.

“They put in that is was my election year when it was my non-election year. It is a concern to me. It gets out there and gets to the public when you haven’t even done anything wrong,” she said. Lamb said she did not know her name had been on the list of late filers until someone else told her.

“I don’t think this is what the intent was,” Ice said, noting that he has also had problems with administrative errors.

Ballinger said she has had similar experiences when working on campaigns. Jerguson said he has been charged with a fine after experiencing website problems while trying to load his reports.

Lamb said she would like to return to filing contribution reports locally.

“This is an issue at all levels of the state,” Hill said. “We’ve been up filing at midnight. It’s the state ethics commission run wild.”

City of Nelson

Nelson City Council Members Edith Portillo and Duane Cronic presented charter changes the city council voted to approve in 2010. The changes, which created a strong council/weak mayor form of government, had not been previously approved by the legislature.

State Court Judge Alan Jordan

Cherokee County State Court Judge Alan Jordan requested that legislators introduce a bill to clean up enabling legislation for the Cherokee County State Court.

“We require residency in the circuit for one year. That’s not a statewide requirement, and we would like for our piece to come in line with state law,” he said.

Another change Jordan requested was amending the terms of court so the four-month terms of state court and superior court would align.

“That might facilitate bringing in jurors at the same time,” he said.

Jordan said he would like to reinstate a technology fee for state court. The court previously collected a $5 fee for fines and filings for a limited period of three years and earmarked it for technology improvements.

Jordan told legislators to “tread carefully” when reclassifying criminal offenses.

“There are often unintended consequences,” he said.

Jordan also sang the praises of DUI courts.

“I can tell you, they work,” he said. As far as saving money, Jordan said DUI court keeps each offender from spending a minimum of three to 15 days in jail. Friends of Recovery, a non-profit group, raises money to help cover program costs. Offenders also pay for their own costs.

Cherokee County Board of Education

Cherokee County Board of Education members Kim Cochran and Michael Geist, as well as member-elect Kelly Marlow talked budgets and graduation requirements with the delegation.

When asked about budget predictions, Hill said state revenues are increasing, but Obamacare spending could take up a large chunk of revenue.

Jerguson noted that education is the largest spending category in the state budget.

“Can we put more money into education? We can, but it’s going to come at the expense of something else. Or we can grow the economy of Georgia,” he said.

Geist said letting students graduate when they are ready, instead of on a strict four-year schedule, “might be worth moving toward.”

Cochran voiced dissatisfaction with graduation requirements that don’t leave much room for vocational training. She said she would like to see students’ schedules allow more time for things like technical training.

“Doing it the same way we’ve been doing it is not hacking it,” Hill said. “It comes down to innovation.”

Delegation business

Before meeting with local governing bodies, the local delegation held a business meeting.

Hill was named chair of the local delegation for the upcoming term. Caldwell was named vice chair, and Ballinger was named secretary.

Since the number of legislators representing Cherokee County in the General Assembly has increased, the delegation voted to make decisions through a supermajority rather than unanimously.

“In the past, all decisions were unanimous. That was fine when there were four or five of us,” Hill said.

The delegation discussed the county’s failed Ball Ground Recycling deal.

“I think that needs to be on our radar screen as a delegation,” Jerguson said. “There could be overlays with environmental regulations or tax money. This really needs to be something we give strong consideration to.”

Hill said he has discussed the Bobo deal with the attorney general and cautioned the rest of the delegation to not assume laws have been broken.

“The law is proceeding. Slowly, agonizingly perhaps,” he said.

The cities of Woodstock, Canton and Ball Ground did not send representatives to meet with the delegation.

Meeting with public

About 15 people turned out for the public meeting where legislators fielded questions about the Homestead Option Sales Tax, gun control, car titles, and voting machines.

Debbie Staver queried the legislators on imminent domain and Obamacare.

“I hope you can stand up for state rights, that state rights trump the federal government,” she said.

She also told the legislators that voting machines used in the recent elections are 10 years old and she believed it was time to replace them.

Staver said she heard the TSPLOST issue was not dead, despite its sound defeat in July.

“I hope you stand strong on that,” she said.

Stephanie Webb asked the legislators how much the upcoming election to replace Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock) would coast and was told about $100,000.

She also questioned why state Rep. Sean Jerguson (R-Holly Springs) was allowed to remain in his seat until January when he has resigned to run for Rogers’ seat.

Jerguson responded that since it was a redistricting year his resignation from House District 22 would not be effective until Jan. 13.
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