‘Fire bond’ vote sparks debate at council meeting
by Joshua Sharpe
jsharpe@mdjonline.com
March 09, 2013 12:00 AM | 1733 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
CANTON — The divisive issue of the proposed “fire bond” referendum once again was a topic of discussion for members of the Canton City Council at their meeting Thursday night.

Mayor Gene Hobgood began the discussion on the proposed $6 million bond, reminding residents to go out and vote on the issue, no matter how they choose to vote.

The bond goes to a public vote March 19, and early voting is under way on the proposal that aims to construct up to three new fire stations in more recently developed areas of Canton. The referendum’s first station would be built in Laurel Canyon, with stations following in The Bluffs and near Canton Marketplace.

In his comments during the meeting, Hobgood said little in the way of his opinion on the matter, although in recent weeks he expressed concern about the longterm costs the bond could force Canton homeowners to shoulder.

Councilman John Beresford, who has been a strong supporter of the bond, led the discussion Thursday and attempted to answer the claims of those who opposed it.

“Some have questioned what sort of planning was done,” Beresford said. He said that some against the bond are under the impression that the council simply “dreamed up” the idea to construct the new stations without fully thinking their plans through.

That’s not so, Beresford said, as plans for the construction of the same three stations first emerged in 2008 from a special committee formed to evaluate the future of the city.

“This is five years of planning, five years of dialogue, five years of not having the money,” Beresford said.

The cost for the stations in the 2008 plan, Councilman Hooky Huffman added, was $7.7 million, $1.7 million less than the $6 million now asked for by the bond.

“Think about the inflation over five years,” Huffman said. “And now we can do it cheaper.”

Beresford also scolded some bond dissenters, saying they were putting out “misinformation” as a means to defeat the measure and were not interested in “the facts.”

“The information is readily available for any citizen who would take the time and dig in and get the facts,” he said.

Beresford also accused some opposed to the bond of operating in a “cloak-and-danger” manner, unwilling to let their identities be known.

He presented a postcard which, he said, was sent out by the anonymous “movement” against the bond.

The postcard claims that, should the referendum pass, the average Canton homeowner can expect a 60 percent tax increase in the next four years, Beresford said.

Beresford said these numbers are not correct.

“Where did they get these numbers,” he asked. “That’s erroneous. Basically, it’s a lie.”

City Financial Advisor Nathan Ingram said Friday that this number isn’t too far off.

Ingram said when you add the .65 mills it will take to service the $6 million debt and the approximately 3 mills it will take for operations of the three stations to what Canton residents pay for fire services now, it comes out to about a 54 percent increase. That number though, is based on the projected five years it will take to have the three stations fully operational, not the four years the postcard reportedly suggested.

The postcard also warned, Beresford said, of the tax increase discouraging new business from coming to Canton.

Beresford took issue with this claim as he said it’s not the taxes that are keeping businesses from opening in Canton, it is the current ISO rating of 4 that keeps them out, as this rating (based on response times from the fire department) can drive homeowners’ insurance rates up.

Councilman Bob Rush, who has also been a strong voice in the support of the bond, had a talk on fire department financing scheduled on the agenda for Thursday night but was unable to attend.

Hobgood reminded citizens that, when the bond goes to public vote on March 19, they will vote at their regular voting precincts.

In the past city elections have been held at City Hall, but this election the county will handle voting.

The county precincts that will be open for the March 19 vote are Canton, Clayton, Liberty, RT Jones, Teasley, and Univeter.

The city also has information regarding voting precincts on its website at canton-georgia.com or voters can call (770) 704-1500 for help with locating their correct precinct.

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