At one of Mike Berg's last speeches as commission chairman, he delivered a state of the county address to a room of Chamber of Commerce members, and gave his advice on what he believes the next steps for the county and commission should be: Maintaining development.
"We need to continue to have an open mind, and say to ourselves let's not close the door on development, as long as we know where it's going," Berg said to the chamber. "You are vital to keeping it going."
Christie Haynes, chamber president, introduced Berg, who has been a chamber member for more than 15 years and commission chair for the past three consecutive terms.
His talk at the chamber's luncheon on Oct. 13 centered on the growth along the Ga. 400 corridor, and Berg explained how the goals he set during his first commission meeting 12 years ago have been slowly met.
His goals of planned growth and a stable tax base, Berg said, have been achieved, especially over the last few years as new retail, restaurants and housing have sprung up on both sides of Ga. 400.
Berg said the Ga. 400 developments are expected to bring in more sales tax than the county has ever seen, and eventually could allow the commission to roll back or decrease property taxes.
The Kroger and Publix alone will bring in $600,000 in sales tax for the 2017 fiscal year, Berg said.
Berg said the county is blessed to get the money that it does from businesses.
"When I started out the tax base in the county was 80 percent residential and 20 percent commercial, even with the North Georgia Premium Outlets," Berg said. "Now we're closer to 40/60 and maybe even 50/50 because of all the new retail. We're a sales tax based county, and one of the few counties in the state to get more in sales tax than property tax."
Because of that, Berg said he urged the commission to roll back the county millage rate when they were deciding in August what the rate for this year should be.
"Every county around us either has the same millage rate or higher,' Berg said. "We're at 8.13, but Lumpkin increased theirs to 13.05 and it may have to go up again. Why? Because they don't have the kind of business that we do."
Berg also spoke about the county budget, which he presented at the Sept. 15 commission meeting and which will be voted on Nov. 10 during a special called meeting.
"Our budget this year is $21.8 million, and if the commission approves the 2017 budget it will be $24.38 million, 2.5 million more than what we had this year," Berg said.
Berg isn't worried about the financial future of the county. He praised the county for having practically no debt, a good fund balance, a good budget, good money coming in from sales tax and wise spending habits.
"During the economic downturn we lost $3.6 million, but 400 is going to be a cash cow for us in the future," he said.
The budget includes added positions, replacement cars and capital improvement projects, among other things. Berg said he also wants to initiate pay-for-performance, to reward those county employees that are excelling in their place of work.
Berg also mentioned how SPLOST VI has been used to the county's advantage in the form of road repairs, but that in future the money should be used to support fire services and courts.
"Dawson Forest is an example of that- we just recently finished the work and it is a much nicer road," he said. "I hope the next SPLOST, which will come in four or five years, looks at protection for the county both from a fire standpoint and also from a court standpoint. Those things will be vital as we move forward. We've done enough on roads for the near future."
Berg ended his speech with a plea for a mutual county vision.
"We need a vision plan in this county," he said. "I hope the next commission pushes forward to try to get leaders in this community to get a 2030 plan, to make sure we all work together to make this place as good as it can be. Thank you for allowing me to serve."
At the end of the address, Haynes presented Berg with a plaque and a small, potted tree. The chamber is celebrating its 40th anniversary, and presented to Berg the tree that will be planted in his honor outside the chamber office.
"Looking at the list of things he has done in his time here, you can really tell he has a servant's heart and has been really involved in the community," Haynes said. "People like that are so vital in the community, especially in communities that are growing. There is little being built in our community that Mike hasn't played a role in."