Preliminary results from Tuesday’s election show that a majority of voters rejected both parts of a two-part vote on HOST, with 63.6 percent of voters voting against one of the two parts.
The 1 percent sales tax was proposed as a way to increase homestead exemptions for qualified properties in unincorporated Cherokee County and all municipalities within the county. The Cherokee County Board of Commissioners voted earlier this year to place the HOST referendum on the ballot.
On each Cherokee County ballot, voters were asked to vote on two HOST questions: “Shall a retail homestead option sales and use tax of 1 percent be levied within the special district within Cherokee County for the purpose of funding capital outlay projects and of funding services to replace revenue lost to an additional homestead exemption of up to 100 percent of the assessed value of homesteads from county taxes for county purposes?” and “Shall the Act be approved which provides a homestead exemption from Cherokee County ad valorem taxes for county purposes of up to 100 percent as determined from the proceeds generated from the collection of a retail homestead option sales and use tax for residents of Cherokee County?”
State law requires that both questions be posed on the ballot. Both questions needed to pass with the majority of county voters in order for HOST to pass.
The first question failed with 63.6 percent of voters voting against and 36.4 percent voting in favor. A total of 88,340 Cherokee County voters cast votes on the question.
The second question was rejected by a closer margin of 53.7 percent against versus 46.3 percent in favor. A total of 87,174 voters cast votes on this question.
County Commission Chairman Buzz Ahrens said the wording of the referendum’s questions, which comes from 1995 state legislation, might have confused some voters. He added that a lack of trust in the government and the recent failed Transportation Special Option Sales Tax might have been factors in the HOST outcome.
“We knew we had an uphill battle, but felt with Sen. (Chip) Rogers as the sponsor and backbone, and following his goal of finding alternatives to property tax via consumption tax…we made a conscious decision to put this issue on this ballot,” he said, adding that the county wanted to avoid the costs of a special election at a later time.
Because of this summer’s T-SPLOST vote, Ahrens said he and other county commissioners remained silent on the matter until after the July primary to avoid confusion among voters, giving commissioners less time to educate the county about HOST.
Since HOST was offered as a substitution tax to offset property taxes, the county’s revenues won’t be affected by HOST’s failure.
“It makes no difference to us. It makes a difference to the taxpayer,” Ahrens said.
Carolyn Cosby, chairman of the Cherokee County Tea Party, said she was pleased with the outcome of the HOST vote.
“The public has been giving a steady message to the county commissioners to lower taxes and cut spending, and they haven’t been getting the message. I hope this will deliver it in spades tonight,” she said Tuesday, adding that she believes the public has lost confidence in the county commission.
Cosby said the Tea Party does support the concept of consumption-based tax.
“Our immediate plans now are to work with Sen. Rogers and any other members interested in talking with us to look at what a real consumption-based tax would look like. We support the Fair Tax but did not believe this was a fair tax, and it had too many problems,” she said.
HOST can be placed on county ballots again in two years.