Tuesday is the deadline to register to vote in time for the March 19 referendum. Early voting will begin Feb. 26 at the Cherokee County Elections Office.
If the measure is approved by voters, debt on the bonds would be paid for through an additional property tax.
A funding analysis for the proposed bond issue calls for $800,000 for a new station at Laurel Canyon, $800,000 for a new station near the new Northside Hospital and $1.2 million for a station at The Bluffs, which would include a multi-purpose community room and space for a ladder truck.
The analysis calls for $750,000 to renovate the downtown fire station, built in 1928. The fire department’s headquarters will remain in the downtown station, Canton Fire Chief Dean Floyd said.
To outfit the hospital and Bluffs stations with pumper trucks and needed firefighting equipment, each would need $575,000, according to city documents. A 75-foot ladder truck for the Bluffs station is estimated to cost $800,000.
The fire department has a truck that can be used at the Laurel Canyon station.
To build the stations, the city will need about $500,000 to pay for bond issuance costs and make the first interest payment on the bonds.
Floyd said building the additional stations would allow the fire department to have shorter response times and lower the city’s Insurance Services Office rating, which could save city residents money on homeowners insurance.
“If this bond passes and we get to build the additional three stations, we’re hoping that will allow us to lower our rating to a Class 3,” Floyd said.
The city now has a Class 4 ISO rating, but the fire services were recently re-evaluated, and the results of that evaluation should come in mid-year.
Since some properties within the city are more than five miles away from a city fire station, the city could receive a split rating, Floyd said.
An ISO consultant reviewed the city’s fire operations, and the sites for the new stations were determined based on the consultant’s recommendations, Floyd said.
City Council Member Bill Bryan said the city will likely have to raise regular property taxes to staff the stations.
“There will have to be some type of incremental millage rate increase,” he said. “It will have to be, I believe, phased in, because the stations being built would probably be a three-year project, or more, and the staffing would be brought up incrementally.”
Floyd said the stations would each initially require nine firefighters, or three per shift.
To collect $6 million over 20 years, the city needs to collect about $500,000 per year, according to Canton’s Chief Financial Officer Nathan Ingram.
To collect $500,000 yearly, the fire bond millage would be set at 0.65 mills. The annual cost to the owner of a $100,000 home would be slightly less than $28 per year, Ingram said.
But that millage rate could change during the life of the bond payments.
“It’s whatever rate is needed. That money that’s collected is to be kept separate, and it’s only the money necessary to service that debt over 20 years,” Ingram said.
Fluctuations in the city’s tax digest could cause changes in the millage rate, but the city would always collect $500,000 per year, he said.
If extra money is collected one year, the extra funding would go toward reducing collections the next year, he said.
The bond millage would appear as a separate line item on property tax bills, Ingram said.
City leaders are still discussing whether the property tax collections would begin with the 2013 or 2014 tax bills.
The city would make its first interest payment in July 2014 and its first principal payment in 2015, should the referendum pass, Ingram said.
The bond referendum calls for the city to pay no higher than 5.5 percent interest, a figure Ingram said is on the high end of what the city is likely to pay.
City leaders previously explored several other options for funding fire improvements, including consolidation with the county’s fire services and creating a fire fee district.