More than 300 people attended the State of the County event hosted by the Council for Quality Growth at the Northside Hospital Cherokee Conference Center in Canton Jan. 25.
The program featured Cherokee Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Hightower, Cherokee Office of Economic Development President Misti Martin, and Cherokee County Commission Chairman Harry Johnston. Event sponsors Northside Hospital and VHB also gave remarks.
Johnston’s State of the County Address focused on the natural gifts in the community, as well as its great manmade resources, infrastructure and plans for the future. His focus: To keep and keep making Cherokee County the best place in the world to live, by gradually reducing the growth rate over the next 30 years and catching up on transportation infrastructure, while continuing to be one of the most fiscally responsible counties in the region.
Cherokee has the lowest Board of Commissioners controlled tax rates in the Atlanta Regional Commission, the second lowest expenditures per capita and the second lowest long-term debt.
Johnston highlighted the strong public safety network in Cherokee, including the Sheriff’s Office, which has the gold standard of advanced accreditation with excellence from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA). Less than 5 percent of agencies nationwide are accredited.
Cherokee Fire and Emergency Services, over its nearly 25-year journey from all volunteer to a county-provided service, is only 35 firefighters away and one station from full initial buildout. All firefighters are medically trained at least to the EMT level, with a more highly trained paramedic on most fire trucks on most shifts. The county boasts an Insurance Service Office (ISO) rating of 2, making homeowners’ insurance rates low for Cherokee residents. The county is one of four in the ARC that directly provides ambulance service operating 14 units 24/7/365 and two day units operating Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. All personnel are interchangeable from fire or EMS.
Johnston praised the E 9-1-1 service that beats the national standard, answering 91 percent of all 911 calls within 10 seconds. The Center received nearly 400,000 911 calls in 2022.
Johnston also focused on the county’s parks program and the fact that it is 47 percent self-funded and is nationally accredited. Several projects are coming soon, including the February opening of the L.B. Ahrens Recreation Center, nicknamed “The Buzz.”
One of the challenges Cherokee is facing includes attainable housing for the county workforce, which the county Community Development Agency and Board of Commissioners have plans to address. Another is transportation infrastructure. The Comprehensive Transportation Plan expected to be adopted in coming months identifies the road projects needed over the next 30 years, with adequate funding sources for the local projects. Funding may be short for state projects and to fully keep up the needed pace of local road resurfacing.
“Cherokee County has almost everything going for it, the opportunity to maintain our increasingly rare quality of life, and the will to succeed,” Johnston said. “We must, we can and we will keep Cherokee County the world’s best place to live.”