Canton officials field questions about ‘fire bond’
by Joshua Sharpe
jsharpe@cherokeetribune.com
March 16, 2013 12:00 AM | 1711 views | 1 1 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
With the vote on a proposed $6 million bond to construct three new fire stations in Canton fast approaching on Tuesday, some voters may still have questions they’d like answered directly from city officials.

The Cherokee Tribune gave two Canton city officials the opportunity to answer questions about the proposed fire bond.

Canton Mayor Gene Hobgood has, in recent weeks, warned of concerns he had about the long-term costs of the new fire stations.

City Council member John Beresford has been a passionate supporter of the proposal.

Following are their views:

Mayor Gene Hobgood

Do you think the fire bond is the best solution to the city’s need for new fire stations? Why or why not?

It is my opinion that the city should have thoroughly looked at all alternatives to improving our fire service including consolidation with the county. The council voted not to consider consolidation or to allow the city manager to meet with the county manager and staff to discuss a possible proposal for consideration by the council. I think consolidation is an alternative we should have

looked at in more depth. My preliminary information indicates to me that consolidation may be the best alternative at the most economical cost to the taxpayers.

Given that Canton has a mutual aid agreement with Cherokee County, in which the county responds to fire calls within the city, are response times much lower in the areas of the proposed stations?

I am not aware of the exact response times in the areas of the proposed stations. I do know that by far most of our emergency calls are not for fire, but for medical emergencies. Cherokee County has a fire station only approximately one mile south of Great Sky and Laurel Canyon. This station is old and the county is considering its replacement.

How much danger is Canton in of losing its ISO rating of 4? What effect would this have on residents and businesses?

The city does not appear to be in any danger of losing our ISO rating of 4. The ISO consultant hired by the city recently indicated that to maintain a rating of 4 would only require very little effort which I believe we could do at little or no cost to the city.

Once fully constructed and operational, how much will the fire stations cost a Canton resident annually for each $100,000 of market value their home holds? For how many years?

The city’s CFO has estimated that, in terms of millage rate increase, the bond payment itself would be approximately 0.70+/- mils. The bond payment only would require an increase in taxes on a $100,000 home of approximately $28 per year. The real costs to the taxpayers are for the operation of the three new proposed fire stations. The operational costs would be in the range of 3.2+/- mils or an additional $128 on a $100,000 home. The total millage rate increase required by the fifth year when all stations are fully operational would increase the taxes on a $100,000 home by approximately $156 per year. (It is my understanding that the average home value in the city is approximately $170,000.)

Will seniors have to pay for the bond? If so, what will the annual cost be for them?

Yes, the seniors will have to pay for the bond based on approximately $28 per $100,000 home value. The Council had established a Fire District which was set up basically to require all property owners including seniors to pay for their fire service. Although that effort was abandoned, the Fire District Ordinance still exists. I do not know whether the council will go back to this district as a source of funding the operations of the fire stations in which case the seniors would not be exempt. Some members of the Council have expressed an interest in a type of “Fee System” for fire operational costs which also if implemented would require seniors to pay with no exemption. I do not support either the fire district or the fee system which only bypasses the senior exemption.

If Canton consolidates its fire department with the county’s, what would fire services cost residents/seniors?

In our preliminary discussions with the county, the county representatives indicated that they felt they could allow the senior exemption to continue for seniors so long as they owned their current home. If the home were sold, the senior exemption would then expire on that property. Eventually the senior exemption would be phased out completely.

Is it a cost effective and safe idea to consolidate Canton’s fire department with the county’s? Why or why not?

It is unquestionably cost effective since the county had offered to build two new stations and keep two ambulances based in the city. Also all the county’s firemen are either EMTs or paramedics. Most of the city’s firemen are at least EMTs but not all ....The current millage rate for the county fire is approximately 3.3 mils. The city currently utilizes a general fund equivalent of 2.88+/- mils for the operation of our two stations. If the city consolidated its fire service with the county, the county could not charge a higher rate to the city property owners than is charged to any other property owners in the county.

Has the city of Canton fully explored the possibility of consolidating with the county?

There were some preliminary discussions, but those ceased when the council voted on June 21, 2012, not to consider consolidation. Therefore the city has not fully explored the possibility of consolidating with the county.

Should the bond not pass, what would you propose as an alternative plan?

I would suggest that we further investigate the possibility of consolidation with the county. If that should fail, we should scale down our proposal for three new stations and new vehicles to a more modest cost effective approach and begin with the construction of one station in the Laurel Canyon / Great Sky area. This would require a much smaller tax increase than we are currently facing under the present proposal.

Council member John Beresford

Do you think the fire bond is the best solution to the city’s need for three new fire stations?

Yes, after a number of options and evaluations of our needs and how best to protect our citizens, we chose the referendum whereby our citizens can make the choice of how they wish to finance the issue. This bond election is not about consolidation with the county but how to finance the city’s need.

Given that Canton has a mutual aid agreement with Cherokee County, in which the county responds to fire calls within the city, are response times much lower in the areas of the proposed stations?

There is a mutual aid agreement whereas both the city and the county support each other as needed. The county and city are very good partners and work very well together. How much danger is Canton in of losing its ISO rating of 4? What effect would this have on residents and businesses? The issue of how we can maintain our ISO 4 rating and move to a 3 rating that would lower insurance rates for both residents and businesses. Lower rate for businesses will put the city in a better position to bring in new and maintain existing businesses to the city, because of this enhanced rating. Whereas, the county has a 5/9 ISO rating. The higher the number the worst the rating.

Once fully constructed and operational, how much will the fire stations cost a Canton resident annually for each $100,000 of market value their home holds? For how many years? Will seniors have to pay for the bond? If so, what will the annual cost be for them?

The fire bond will impact the residents about $28 per 100K/year. this will include all citizens (62 and over along with residents younger than 62). 20 year payout. “The operational cost” will exclude seniors (they will keep their Senior Tax exemption), because this cost is part of the General Fund. Operational costs will be about $40/100K/year per station. As each additional station comes online it will go up about 1 mil per station. We hope to have the three stations online in five years

If Canton consolidates its fire department with the county’s, what would fire services cost residents/seniors? Is it a cost effective and safe idea to consolidate Canton’s fire department with the county’s? Why or why not?

If Canton was to consolidate with the county, the residents and the seniors would be paying $135/100K, $270/200K, and $407/300K. Therefore, seniors would lose their “senior tax exemption.” This is why we decided against the consolidation, along with a lower ISO rating than 5/9. The city can provide a superior service level, be more cost effective and deliver a quality product. As stated at our August 25, 2012, Council Meeting, Commissioner Harry Johnston stated that an ISO rating of a “4” which the city has, is safer than the “5/9” that the county has.

Has the City fully explored the possibility of consolidating with the County?

Yes!!!!! At a meeting with the county on May 3, 2012, we met with the county to discuss the option. County was estimating the cost of $1.2-1.5 million for each station building. Whereas, the city is planning $800,000 for two stations and $1.2 for the Bluffs station. The County’s plan was a six year roll out plan. We need improvements now. We have been discussing this issue as far back as 2000, 2005, 2008, 2009, right up to the critical point of this past year 2012.

Should the bond not pass, what would you propose as an alternative plan?

When the residents know all of the facts VS the information put out by the “anonymous group” with their misinformation and desire to mislead the citizens; i.e. “plan to close the downtown fire station”. Not true! We plan to remodel it and keep it online. Our plan will bring the Canton Fire Department up to date with three new stations fully equipped, along with personnel. We will have an ISO 3 rating with highly trained professional personnel that we will be very proud of, and you will appreciate in your hour of need.



Comments
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Real Fireman
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March 16, 2013
The City Council is dilusional. Costs "always" exceed estimations! This will end up, like everything else, resting on the backs of the citizens.
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