The Board of Commissioners and members of the City Council talked extensively about fire services Friday during the commissioners’ retreat in Adairsville and agreed to consider building a shared fire station in the Canton area of Laurel Canyon.
The officials in attendance at the meeting at the Barnsley Gardens resort mostly agreed the county needs to replace an existing fire station near Laurel Canyon, and Canton needs one to serve its growing community.
“It’s just nuts for us to have two stations,” Commissioner Harry Johnston said. “There’s no need for us to both do that. We’ve got to get it down to where we just have one station to serve that area. We’re crazy if we don’t.”
Commissioner Ray Gunnin, who was formerly Cherokee’s longtime fire chief, agreed.
“We’re going to have to have a station up there, and y’all are going to have to put a station up there. It just seems more feasible that we (cooperate),” he said.
Friday’s discussion began as a broad talk about how Canton could address its need for more than its current two fire stations, a need which many have suggested could be solved by merging the city’s fire department with that of the county.
Councilman Hooky Huffman, as he has more than a few times before, said he was still against that idea.
“I want Canton to be a true city and offer all the services and benefits of a city,” Huffman said. “I think a city, if it’s a true city, should be able to stand on its own feet.”
Mayor Gene Hobgood questioned Huffman’s logic, saying some Cherokee County cities don’t have fire departments and rely on the county.
“So I guess Holly Springs, Waleska and Ball Ground aren’t true cities then,” Hobgood said wryly.
Hobgood said Canton should maintain control of all of its services in general, but a line has to be drawn when the city can’t provide those services for an affordable cost.
The officials agreed that cost could be a factor when considering what to do about the Laurel Canyon area.
They informally charged County Manager Jerry Cooper and Councilman Glen Cummins, who was named acting city manager Thursday, to begin talks on how the needs of Cherokee and Canton could be met in one fire station. The officials discussed either the city or county running the station but both sharing in the costs.
Cherokee County and Canton’s mutual need for a fire station in the Laurel Canyon area is not new. For years, the county’s Station 9 has been aging into a state of disrepair, and Laurel Canyon —which sits in Canton’s city limits — has seen an increase of residents and commercial properties.
But as debate surged through Canton about how to address the city’s growing need for more fire stations, clear lines were drawn in the sand by some members of the council that the city didn’t want Cherokee County’s help.
Hobgood said during the meeting the council may be more open to considering the options, after three new members came on board in early January.
“The idea here is, from a city perspective, we want our residents to have the best possible fire service at the (lowest) cost to the taxpayers,” he said. “Our bottom line is we need a fire station up in the Laurel Canyon area and I think y’all do, too.”
Cooper said a new fire station for the county’s use is planned for near Laurel Canyon, however it has it happen.
“We’re going to replace that station,” he said. “That’s in our plans.”
Cooper added Cherokee County already serves the Laurel Canyon community and has for some time, but, as the county grows, a time may come when providing services to city of Canton residents won’t be practical.
“We want to make sure that what we’re doing isn’t going to detract from the level of service (to county residents),” he said.
The commissioners and council members seemed to be open to the idea of a shared station near Laurel Canyon, even Huffman.
New Councilman John Rust said the simple fact that the discussion was happening was a positive development.