The “fire bond,” as it became known early on, was a $6 million bond referendum proposed by the Canton City Council to fund construction of three new fire stations in the city. The stations were to be built in Laurel Canyon, The Bluffs and near Canton Marketplace. It failed in a public vote Tuesday, 518-213.
All six City Council members and Mayor Gene Hobgood agree that there is a need for new stations to service these newer, more recently developed areas on the outskirts of the city, but now that the bond has failed, very different ideas are emerging on how to get them.
Councilman Hooky Huffman said before the council’s meeting Thursday that there would likely be a vote to approve construction on a station at Laurel Canyon as soon as possible.
“We already have the truck and the land,” he said. “All we need is the building.”
To have this station fully operational, Huffman said, a tax increase would be likely for Canton residents, though he couldn’t say how much.
But, the councilman pointed out, “We haven’t had a tax increase in three or four years and the majority of municipalities have. Basically, the citizens of Canton have been getting a discount and now they’re going to have to pay.”
Should this station be built, it has been suggested by Cherokee County that it will not go through with its plans to rebuild a station on Highway 140, Huffman said.
Communities like Laurel Canyon, further away from the existing Canton fire stations, are serviced by both the city of Canton and Cherokee County fire stations.
This is part of a mutual aid agreement written in 2007 in which the county responds to fire calls in Canton, Huffman said. In turn, Canton responds to calls in some areas of Cherokee County.
This agreement, which Huffman said is written to automatically renew each January, has had some citizens and city officials suggesting a full merger with the county’s fire department for some time.
Conflicting views of history emerge as to whether or not the council ever truly considered this merger.
Huffman and Councilman Glen Cummins, the sole city council member to speak out against the bond, agree that there was some talk in mid-2012 on the subject.
Cummins said prior to Thursday’s council meeting that other council members failed to cooperate with county officials during the brief talks.
Huffman acknowledges that the talks were brief but maintains that he is open to talking about consolidation with the county.
“I just want them to bring something (a proposal),” he said. “What are they going to charge?”
Another option, Huffman said, is funding the fire district which was previously created to address the problem of fire services in Canton.
That option though has already caused controversy in the city, primarily with citizens 62 and older.
“The thing about the fire district is it would cost less for some of the citizens and more for some others. There are no exemptions. Even seniors who have tax exemptions would have to pay,” he warned.
Canton seniors, Huffman said, have for the most part been resistant to losing their exemptions. Other citizens also expressed concern about the cost of the fire district, the same citizens, Huffman said, who railed against the bond referendum.
“You can’t win,” he said. “I don’t think we (city officials) know where or how we want to go.”