As a conservative Republican, I do not support raising taxes! However, I do support a raise for our public safety. The County makes a considerable investment in training our public safety employees. The training programs here in Cherokee far exceed the minimum required by the state.
Cherokee County has an excellent benefit package, however the compensation for these highly trained individuals is not competitive with neighboring counties. Many of these highly trained deputies are leaving Cherokee County to seek higher compensation offered by other counties. We need to adjust our compensation plan to be competitive with neighboring counties and cities or we will continue to lose the investment we make with training our deputies.
By law, the county must advertise the worst-case scenario when they schedule the public hearing before they set the millage rate. The county manager, the financial manager and the commissioners are all working to find ways to avoid the tax increase and to be able to give our public safety the raises they deserve. Due to Cherokee’s growth in population, the sheriff’s department also needs to hire additional deputies to serve our county.
My Plan – Budget Cuts to Avoid any Tax Increase:
- Increase the eligibility for retirement by 5 years for all employees that are more than 5 years away from retirement. Under the current plan, once an employee meets the points for retirement, they are required to continue to contribute 6% to the pension plan, but their benefit is capped so they do not have any incentive to continue working for Cherokee County. I believe that we should adjust the plan to eliminate the contribution once they meet their points for the pension plan. This would help us retain more of our highly trained and experienced officers.
- For all new hires we need to offer a 401K plan in lieu of the current pension plan. We also need to offer the 401K plan to any current employees as an option for them to switch their retirement from the pension plan if they so choose.
- I would like to see the county continue to utilize virtual hearings for simple cases and for arraignments. No one ever considered this as an option until it became the only option during the pandemic. The entire court system has become more efficient and the costs to process these cases have been significantly less. I have proposed that we continue to handle these cases as we have during the pandemic.
I know that the county is looking for any additional cuts that can be made to avoid this increase as they should. Most of the solutions that are being reviewed will not cover the shortfall over the next year, they will however reduce the budget over time in the future.
In order to support our public safety personnel without increasing taxes, I would support using some of the reserve fund to cover the costs over the next year. Using reserve funds is not sustainable long term, but by next year we should see the results of the changes we make now that will allow the county to cover the expense moving forward. Cherokee County has a reserve fund of 25% of the annual maintenance and operating budget so using some of the reserve fund will not put the county at risk. The recommended percentage of a county reserve fund is between 10 and 15 percent.
We are fortunate to live in Cherokee County, we have the lowest tax burden in the region and the 5th lowest in the state. I will work to see that Cherokee County remains the county with the lowest tax burden.