CANTON — The Canton City Council is continuing to eye a potential tax hike of up to 18 percent for the upcoming fiscal year.
During a work session Wednesday afternoon, the City Council discussed an $11.9 million preliminary budget for the general fund for fiscal 2014, which would result in an increase in the city’s millage rate from 6.8 mills in 2013 to about 8 mills.
The general fund budget is up about $1.2 million from 2013 and includes an increase of about $200,000 for the Canton Police Department and $500,000 to hire nine new firefighters to the city’s fire department.
During another budget work shop Monday, the City Council was presented with a preliminary budget which would result in a millage rate of 7.3, but at the insistence of several councilmen, $500,000 was added to hire the new firefighters.
Should the millage rate be set at 8 mills, Canton residents would see a $50 increase for every $100,000 in the value of their home. A homeowner with a house valued at $200,000 would see a tax increase from $544 to $644 over the rate from 2013.
Despite the council members who favor adding on the new firefighters and their assertions that the employees are necessary for safety, some city officials remain against the action.
Mayor Gene Hobgood said Thursday Canton doesn’t need the employees.
“We do not need nine new firemen at this time. Our fire department does an excellent job with the current 27 employees,” said Hobgood.
However, Councilman Hooky Huffman said Thursday the firefighters are “absolutely” needed.
The need, he said, is based on a recent review of Canton fire protection from ISO, which rates municipalities on how well-equipped they are to fight fires.
In the 38-page report, Huffman said a clear need for new staff is illustrated, and the city must hire them for the safety of residents, even if it means a tax increase. Huffman added that the city hasn’t seen an increase in its millage rate in several years.
“We have not had a tax increase in three or four years, and we’ve been losing revenue because of that,” he said. “Unfortunately, we’re going to have to do a little catch up.”
Hobgood said the timing of hiring on the employees is suspect, as several members of the council will see their terms in office run out this year.
“It seems we have a lame duck council at present, and they are trying to cram everything possible into their last few months in office,” he said. “I can see that the new council will have its work cut out for it in January.”
City Manager Scott Wood, who told the council he was worried about hiring the firefighters Monday, emphasized Wednesday night that the budget and millage rate were only preliminary.
“This is all a work in progress. It will be revised, perhaps multiple times, before it’s ever adopted.”