Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock) said this week he will introduce local legislation to allow the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners to ask voters to consider a referendum to implement a Homestead Option Sales Tax, or HOST.
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 HOST does not roll back property taxes for the fire district or school property taxes.
Rogers made his announcement during a press conference Tuesday afternoon, where he was joined by County Commission Chairman Buzz Ahrens, Commissioners Karen Bosch and Jim Hubbard, County Manager Jerry Cooper and Woodstock Mayor Donnie Henriques.
The county commission in December voted to request local legislation to place the referendum on the ballot, but left open the question of when it would be on the ballot.
The commission during its Feb. 7 meeting, voted to inform the delegation it would like to place the referendum on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.
Once the legislation is introduced, it has to be approved by the Georgia General Assembly and signed by Gov. Nathan Deal.
Rogers said he “cannot imagine any possibility” of Deal not signing off on the referendum, and added Deal is very supportive of referendums in general.
After Deal gives his stamp of approval, the county can then place the matter on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.
“This is a much more fair, efficient and transparent way to collect taxes that will result in a significant tax cut for Cherokee County homeowners,” Rogers said about the HOST.
Ahrens said the penny is expected to generate roughly $30 million in tax revenues per year for the county that could be applied to approximately 49,000 residential properties receiving the $5,000 homestead exemption.
Georgia law allows local counties to use up to 20 percent of HOST proceeds towards capital, which would leave the county with 80 percent, or roughly $24 million, to increase homestead exemptions.
The county commission last year began discussing whether they 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 towards capital.
Ahrens said he believes the county voters would be supportive of a HOST once they learn how it works.
“I think it’s both a practical and real benefit as well as a psychological benefit,” he said of the measure if implemented.
County Commissioner Harry Johnston said the HOST allows for the county to first apply the rollback 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.
He noted the county did briefly discuss applying the rollback to its fire district, but said they decided against that idea because it would only benefit unincorporated residents.
Johnston said he believed the HOST would save the average qualified homeowner about $400 each year.
“It seems like something the homeowners may want,” he said. “I plan to vote for it myself as a voter because I think it’s a good thing.”
Bosch said she was glad to see Rogers come out in support of the county’s request, adding she had been pushing for the county to implement a HOST.
She said the HOST takes the burden off property owners and spreads that burden to those who don’t live inside the county, but shop in the county.
“I think it’s the right move for the county to eliminate as much property taxes as possible,” she said.
Hubbard said he will be voting in favor of the measure if placed on the ballot.
Hubbard said it would reduce his property taxes by 65 percent.
“It’s transferring the tax burden and as a resident, I would sure enjoy that big chunk of my tax bill going away,” he said.