Jeff and Kristen Jones, who live in the Hillcrest subdivision, are looking for interested residents to join their grassroots movement to explore merging the county seat and have scheduled an information-gathering meeting for Monday.
Jones said she and her husband have scheduled a meeting with Cherokee County Commissioner Harry Johnston and City Councilman Bill Bryan to discuss the possibility.
“I’m not in favor of it and I’m not opposed to it,” Bryan said. “I’m in favor of studying it and recommending what’s best for the taxpayers.”
Bryan did say he’s discussed the idea with the Joneses and told them he thought the idea wasn’t feasible, but noted city residents deserved to be respected and heard.
Jones said the discussion took off when she and her family were among hundreds of households that were charged thousands of dollars in water bills because of a software glitch the city discovered last April.
Jones spoke at the Canton City Council meeting late last year, and said that she purchased orange buckets from The Home Depot she and her family would have to use because they couldn’t afford to flush their toilets.
The glitch, she said, has caused “absolute chaos” for families, and added she followed proper channels to address the issue, and was finally given a $100 credit from the city to help alleviate the water costs.
Kristen Jones added the city shouldn’t “burden families” with its rising debt due to the city funding projects such as the Hickory Log Creek Reservoir, which has garnered the city roughly $30 million in debt.
“We’re opposed to our taxes being raised, which will happen if it’s left to the way it is,” she said of the city’s finances.
Johnston, who lives in the city limits, said he’s only there to answer questions and said he has told the small group of residents that he does not support the idea of merging.
“The idea doesn’t have a lot of merit,” he said, adding any money saved by Canton residents could be negated by some costs being passed onto county residents.
Jones added consolidation is possible, but “there’s no way to say for certain this is what we want until we have all the facts to study it.”
There are currently six consolidated cities and counties in Georgia: Georgetown-Quitman County, Preston-Webster County, Statenville-Echols County, Columbus-Muscogee County, Athens-Clarke County and Augusta-Richmond County.
Henderson said the process of consolidation begins with a committee exploring how the consolidated government would be structured and composing a proposed charter for the new government.
The measure would then have to be approved by the Georgia General Assembly and both city and county voters would have to consider the matter through a referendum.
Henderson said consolidations are generally “difficult to pass.”
“It does not necessarily save money,” she said. “You can have some efficiencies, but it’s not going to be a (lot of) tax savings.”
Canton Mayor Gene Hobgood characterized a consolidation as a “dead issue,” and added the main question would be what can the county government offer to city residents.
“I appreciate the fact there are those who are thinking about the city and who want to make it better,” he said. “But I don’t think dissolving the city is the way to do it at all. That’s way out of bounds, as far as I’m concerned. There’s a lot more to be lost than to be gained.”
Councilman Hooky Huffman said the proposal to merge operations with the county is based on “pure emotion” rather than factual information relative to the benefits.
Councilman Glen Cummins said he believes the “closer” government is to citizens, the more effective it operates.
He noted the cost savings city residents would get by eliminating operations would be redistributed.
“Someone would have to pay for those services,” he said.
Councilman John Beresford said he hopes the Joneses will do more research on this proposal. He said he met with them for more than an hour to explain city operations, but to no avail.
“They are misguided by Bill Bryan, who is running around creating problems,” Beresford said.
Bryan said Beresford’s assertion was incorrect and added his fellow public servant was the one who is “misguided.”
Kristen Jones said the proposal to consider consolidating was done on her husband’s “own accord.”
She said it was “completely false” that Bryan has been requesting they push consolidation, and noted her husband reached out to all council members and county commission members to get their feedback.
She said that no one told them they were for or against consolidating, and said most of the council members noted they would consider listening to the information they presented.
Councilman Bob Rush said the Joneses’ frustration, adding the city “has been somewhat unable to provide services at a reasonable costs.”
“Canton really needs to get its house in order,” he said, adding he and other council members are trying to do just that.