Leaders with both entities are weighing the possibility, taking costs and staffing into consideration.
County Manager Jerry Cooper said officials have been open to the idea.
“I believe that any consolidation can be very beneficial to citizens from the standpoint from (an increased) level of service and overall cost reduction,” he said.
Cooper said the idea of consolidation initially was brought up in 2002, but the idea never got off the ground.
Officials from both bodies earlier this year have floated the idea of entering into a joint venture to operate a new fire station.
A Service Delivery Strategy, adopted in 2009 by the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners and municipalities, includes a fire services agreement that would allow the county to work with the city to jointly build a fire station.
That agreement, which hasn’t been approved, stipulates both entities building a new station near Laurel Canyon, replacing the county’s North Canton station on Highway 140/Reinhardt College Parkway, and another near Commerce Boulevard, replacing Cherokee’s Hickory Flat station on Highway 140/Hickory Flat Highway east of Interstate 575.
Canton has two fire stations, Station 11 on Marietta Highway, on the south side of the city, and Station 16, on West Main Street in downtown Canton.
Ideally, Canton personnel would become employees of the county, and Cooper said the county would define the service area as Cherokee County Fire & Emergency Services. City of Canton and Canton Fire Chief Dean Floyd could possibly serve on Cherokee County Fire Chief Tim Prather’s executive staff as a liaison to Canton.
Cooper said there’s no timeline on moving forward with the possible merger, but added if both entities could come to terms in the summer before their fiscal years begin in October, that would be positive.
Cooper said the county has requested information on health care, pension and capital costs, and a list of employees and their ranking and pay, as well as debt service related to the Fire Department, before taking further action.
Canton City Manager Scott Wood said the city is “always open” to discussing any reasonable concepts, “but currently we have as many questions as answers, and in matters such as this, the devil seems always in the details.”
“My own personal opinion is that any time local governments can work cooperatively and co-supportively, we should do so, provided the sum total of any such alliance accrues to the benefit of both governments and their respective taxpayers,” he said.
Canton Mayor Gene Hobgood said he “really seriously doubts” anything will come out of consolidation talks.
Hobgood noted some preliminary cost figures associated with the possible merger have implanted some doubts in his mind.
“Right now, from my perspective, I don’t see anything that could happen any time in the near future,” he said.
Councilman Bob Rush, who has actively advocated for the city to move forward with building a third fire station, also said he’s “100 percent” opposed to any consolidation “unless the city, as suggested by some residents, wishes to merge totally with the county.”
Rush said he’s concerned some Canton residents may end up paying more in home insurance, since Canton’s ISO rating of 4 is lower than the county’s split 5/9 rating.
Homes located on a water system with fire hydrants where water is available are eligible for the 5 rating.
Homes that are in areas with no water systems with fire hydrants and are within a five-mile radius of a fire station are only eligible for the 9 ISO rating.
He also said the city would have to pay the county’s fire district tax of 3.129 mills, which he noted “would leave us a miniscule amount to run the city and would probably result in a significant tax increase for the residents with virtually no increase in services.”
If the city does merge, he said, “I can see no reason for the city to exist as an entity.”
“The residents would probably be better off if we then merged the parks, roads and police with the county as well,” he said.