Over the years, Cherokee County and some of its cities have had fractious relationships. I’m glad to report that those days appear to be over — at least for now, and, hopefully, for good. City-county relations are the best they’ve been in many years.
During 2019 and 2020, we haggled over costs of services and how they would be shared in the state-required Service Delivery Strategy negotiations, which gives local governments and authorities the opportunity to reach an agreement on the delivery of services in an effective and cost-efficient manner to citizens (https://bit.ly/3NIkJpw). Both sides spent money on lawyers and consultants, while other, more positive, joint initiatives had to be put on hold. We successfully resolved those issues last year, and, while this year’s negotiation over dividing revenues from the special-purpose local-option sales tax could have been a repeat of that battle, it wasn’t. We agreed on terms of that sharing in just two constructive negotiating sessions.
The biggest city-county battles were over annexations and developments, approved by the cities against the county’s wishes. City leadership understandably wants their cities to grow. And, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Thriving, compact cities can and should be part of a good overall county growth management plan. The core of a city is where the most intense development should be. The problems come when the cities annex properties far from their core and approve city-style development in rural areas.
State law allows cities to annex property over the county’s objection if it’s contiguous with the existing city limits and the owner wishes for it to be annexed. Substantially all annexations in our county have been to move the property out from under the county’s development control and into the city’s, to get zoning approval for a development the county likely wouldn’t approve. This practice often thwarted the county’s efforts to keep growth and development under control.
About 15 years ago, following friction between the county and Canton over suburban residential development, we negotiated a long-term growth boundary agreement that has worked very well through multiple city and county administrations. We reached short-term agreements to address more contentious issues with Woodstock and Holly Springs, but they expired and weren’t renewed. The county ended up suing both cities, seeking to block annexations, but lost those court cases.
We desperately needed a better way. We needed a plan that allowed reasonable growth for the cities while protecting the more rural areas of the county and providing for reasonable and responsible overall management of countywide growth and development.
And, we got one. Early this year, we reached a boundary agreement with Woodstock. We signed one with Ball Ground in September. And, in early November, we finalized one with Holly Springs. That puts such agreements in place with all four key cities in the Interstate 575 corridor.
The agreements aren’t legally binding, and they won’t solve everything. The substance is that the cities agree not to annex beyond agreed-upon boundaries, and the county agrees not to use its very limited powers to block legal annexations inside those boundaries. They pave the way for joint land-use planning, which we hope to achieve in the ongoing updates to our land-use plans. We will have to continue to nurture the relationships and cooperate on solutions to our development issues, but I believe we are all committed to doing exactly that.
– Harry Johnston is chairman of the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners. He’s a retired CPA and accounting manager, and a former district commissioner. Email him