After a year of discussions and negotiations between the Cherokee County government and local city governments over service districts within the county, Canton was able to finally reach an agreement with the county for the remaining two service arrangements.
At its latest meeting, the Canton City Council approved a resolution stating that the city accepts the remaining two Service Delivery Arrangements, Roads and Parks.
Fifty four of the 56 service arrangements, called Form 2s which are a summary of Service Delivery Arrangements for each service offered by a city or the county, were approved by the Council in early August. The city rejected for further discussion the Roads and Bridges — County Form 2, as well as the Parks and Recreation — County Form 2. At that meeting, City Manager Billy Peppers said that both of the Form 2s that were not agreed to are areas that reflect that general funds, taxes collected from incorporated and unincorporated residents, are used to maintain the county-wide parks and roads network.
The city argued at the time that the county only spends or uses these general funds on maintenance in areas outside of the cities. For roads, for instance, the maintenance funds are used for snow plowing, signs, right of way cutting, and potholes on roads exclusive of those in the city limits, though the municipal residents are paying for that work, Peppers said.
Peppers said that everyone that drives to the County Courthouse and several other government buildings uses city streets to get to those locations. So those roads benefit everyone. The county cannot make that claim on many of the county roads, he said.
At the latest council meeting, Peppers said that even though Canton does not believe that these services are currently offered as county-wide services because the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners does not provide any capital or maintenance for roads in the city limits of Canton, nor do they provide any general fund capital or maintenance for parks and recreation inside the city limits of Canton, the city is willing to accept service arrangements agreement on those two Form 2s in exchange for the items listed in the resolution.
The items listed in the resolution state that the county will establish a special services district and account for the revenues and expenditures in an unincorporated county services fund. The services included within the unincorporated services fund, along with other services provided primarily for the benefit of the unincorporated areas of the county, include legal fees for annexation disputes and litigation against any local city, resource recovery development authority debt service, and stormwater.
Other items in the resolution include an informal budget forum with the Cherokee Municipal Association hosted by the Cherokee County commissioners, the funding of a transportation study of the Old Highway 5 corridor including a traffic signal timing study, widening plan and pedestrian trail system parallel to the road, with all work being completed prior to the expiration of the SDS agreement, jointly funded capital projects within the cities of Mountain Park and Waleska, and all applicable intergovernmental agreements will be included in the SDS and shall have terms that are, at a minimum, concurrent with the duration of the SDS agreement.
Canton approved the resolution, but has concerns with the county requesting an amendment to the fire and emergency services agreement as a part of Service Delivery Arrangements, Peppers said.
“Canton is not willing to have its residents pay a different fire tax rate than other users in the fire district,” Peppers said. “Canton and Cherokee County entered into a 50 year agreement as a consideration for consolidation (of fire departments) in 2016. As part of that process, both parties agreed that for the term of that agreement, Canton residents would pay no more in fire district fees than unincorporated Cherokee County residents.”
Peppers added that the latest proposal from the county commissioners would charge Canton residents a millage rate for fire, and then provide a roll-back of insurance premium taxes to unincorporated residents which would create differing rates for fire services, a process the city does not agree to. Peppers said that Canton has asked that Cherokee County follow state laws relating to Service Delivery Strategy including the proper accounting of Insurance Premium Taxes, the proper reporting of services and funding through Form 2s, and now the items listed in the resolution.
Councilman Nick Estes and Mayor Bill Grant both expressed their concerns with that request from the county, placing an emphasis on equity among all citizens in Cherokee County.