The Cherokee County Board of Commissioners will be holding its annual planning retreat Thursday and Friday in Bartow County.

The retreat, which will be held in the Saylor Conference Room at Barnsley Gardens in Adairsville, gives commissioners an opportunity for long discussions about issues without time being a limiting factor as it is during regular board meetings. Commission Chairman Harry Johnston said that, since the board began holding these retreats more than 15 years ago, they have proven to be highly valuable.

“It’s about the only time of the year when the commissioners spend significant time together talking about a wide range of county subjects,” he said. “The retreat sessions are officially meetings of the BOC.”

Because they are meetings of the commission, the planning sessions are open to the public.

During this year’s planning retreat, Johnston said much of the discussion will revolve around financial matters facing the county.

“We plan to spend nearly half our time this year on salary and benefits strategy,” Johnston said. “It seems we may have fallen behind surrounding counties and cities again on salary levels, especially for public safety employees. When that happens, we start losing our best people to those other jurisdictions, and we find it hard to hire and retain good replacements. We need to evaluate where we really stand, including our benefits, which may be better than some other local governments. And we want input from county management and other elected officials about what, if anything, we need to do about it. This will kick off a process that could take four to five months leading up to our budget process in June and July.”

In addition to discussions on salaries and benefits, Johnston said the board will also take a look at the county’s strategic plan and five-year financial plan, as well as hearing reports and holding open dialogues with leaders from a number of the county’s major departments.

Over the past few years, the board of commissioners has used Barnsley Gardens for planning retreats because of its facilities, while also being conveniently close to home for both the commissioners and citizens who may wish to attend the sessions, according to Johnston. Prior to this, he said there were a number of locations across north Georgia the board of commissioners used, including one year at a cabin on Lake Lanier owned by Johnston’s family. While there are a multitude of amenities for visitors to Barnsley Gardens to enjoy, Johnston stressed that there has never been any recreational aspect included in the agenda for the retreat.

“It’s much more effective if it’s overnight,” he said. “It creates the sense of dropping everything else to focus on the county’s future for a couple of days.”

Johnston said that, with the exception of an executive session scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Thursday, the entire schedule of work sessions at the planning retreat will be open to the citizens of Cherokee County.

For residents interested in visiting Barnsley Gardens and watching the board of commissioners in action during the planning retreat, Johnston said the current schedule for the event is to have sessions from 10 a.m. to noon, then 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, and 9 to 11:30 a.m., then 1 to 3 p.m. Friday. He added that the guard at the facility’s gate would be able to direct all visitors to the conference room where sessions are being held.

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