CANTON — The Canton City Council is set tonight to have its second of three public hearings on a potential tax hike of almost 18 percent.
The preliminary fiscal 2014 budget on the table for approval by the City Council would result in an increase in the city’s millage rate from 6.8 to 7.98 mills. Within the budget, all city employees would get a pay raise and the Canton Police Department would receive about $200,000 in additional funding.
But the budget item that has many residents up in arms is a potential increase in funding for the Canton Fire Department of $500,000, which would pay for nine new firefighters.
In recent weeks, several council members have advocated for the new employees and said that because Canton hasn’t had a millage rate increase in several years, a tax hike is warranted in general.
Councilman Glen Cummins, though, said Tuesday that the increase is completely “unnecessary.”
“I’m totally against it,” he said. “They can hold the millage rate at 6.8 without a problem.”
Cummins is also against the new fire personnel, primarily because the budget request presented to the City Council from the fire department does not ask for the employees.
“They don’t need nine firefighters,” Cummins said. “The fire chief has not requested any increase in staff.”
Councilman Hooky Huffman disagreed, saying the Fire Department does need staff.
But after hearing opposition from residents and Mayor Gene Hobgood, Huffman said Tuesday he is willing to compromise.
“We could take it from nine (firefighters) to six or five,” he said. “I’m perfectly open.”
During the last City Council meeting, Huffman suggested compromising on the increase by only hiring five new firefighters and using $500,000 of unspent city funds for the regular budget. Huffman’s suggestion would lower the budget by about $775,000.
Huffman said Tuesday he is still for finding the middle ground.
“I’d like to think that my compromise is a good one,” he said. “When everybody is disappointed that means it’s a good compromise.”
So far, Huffman said he doesn’t believe there is a majority opinion on exactly how the budget or the firefighter request will end up.
“It’s kind of a quagmire,” he said.
But whether a compromise can be agreed on or not, Huffman said a tax increase of some kind is necessary since the city has been without one for several years.
“I’m just trying to run it like a business, not necessarily a government,” he said.
If the millage rate is set at 7.98 mills, residents will see an almost $47 increase for every $100,000 in the value of their home holds. A homeowner with a house valued at $200,000 would see a tax increase from $544 to about $638 over the rate from 2013, before exemptions.
The City Council is set to take action on the budget after the third public hearing Aug. 22.
During the regular meeting of the City Council following the budget hearing, the council will:
• Consider approving a $115,734 contract with Bartow Paving for a Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant project for road work;
• Consider approving a $39,284 contract with Integrated Construction and Nobility, Inc. for sidewalk paving on East Marietta Street;
• Hear a report on the status of the Jones Building from Hobgood. Cherokee County owns the building and is negotiating a sale with an Atlanta developer;
• Consider approval for the Canton Housing Authority’s plans to issue $12 million in revenue bonds to a developer hoping to build an assisted living center on Mill Road; and
• Discuss management of athletic recreational programs at the city’s parks.