CANTON — Discussions began Tuesday between Cherokee County leaders and elected officials of most of the county’s cities to work toward an agreement on the county’s service delivery strategy.

The county commissioners, hosted city council members from Canton, Holly Springs, Waleska and Woodstock at their administrative building in Canton, where they met for breakfast and for the first of two planned mediation sessions. Though the gathering began as public special called meetings for the cities, the mediation happened in a closed session that lasted most of the day.

Service Delivery Strategy, or SDS, is a set of agreements designed to make sure residents aren’t overtaxed for a duplication of county and city services. Georgia requires counties and cities to form these agreements once every 10 years, and local governments have been disputing how residents should be taxed for these services for over a year.

The cities, represented by attorney Andy Welch of Smith, Welch, Webb and White, argue that the current strategy has many city residents paying too much in county property taxes for services that primarily benefit unincorporated county residents. A report from the cities’ consultant, Brown Pelican Consulting, suggests that the county millage rate should be lowered for city residents, and raised for those in unincorporated areas. The consultant also argues that the county violates state law by using county-wide money to pay for services that are “primarily for the benefit of the unincorporated area of the county.”

The county, however, contends that unincorporated residents pay more than their fair share for county services, because they are charged separate taxes and fees for things like insurance premiums and title ad valorem taxes.

Incorporated and unincorporated residents pay the same county millage rate.

No definitive solutions had been reached by the end of the joint Tuesday meeting, but leaders were hopeful about the next mediation scheduled for Aug. 20.

“I think we made some progress today, mostly in better understanding of the two sides of the issues. I’m hopeful we can come to agreement at the follow-up session planned for Aug. 20,” said Cherokee County Commission Chairman Harry Johnston in an emailed statement to the Tribune.

“I would just say that we still have issues to resolved with the county regarding service delivery,” said Woodstock City Manager Jeff Moon. “We simply want them to be transparent and follow the law as adopted by the General Assembly.”

The city of Ball Ground is not among the cities contesting the service delivery strategy, and neither its representatives nor Mountain Park and Nelson were in attendance at the meeting.

Shannon is a reporter covering education, city governments, crime, features, religion and other local news. She is a graduate of Young Harris College and currently lives in unincorporated Woodstock.

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