The City Council’s fire services committee heard the findings of a report from staff members Thursday morning showing the option of letting the county take over the city’s fire services would be more costly after four years than Canton going it alone.
The report was prepared by Chief Financial Officer Nathan Ingram, Fire Chief Dean Floyd and Interim City Manager Glen Cummins, who is also a councilman.
The study spanned 10 years and assumed a new fire station would be built in the Laurel Canyon area, which many see as the area most in need, and another near Canton Marketplace in the fourth and fifth years.
According to the findings, the city’s cost of fire services in the first year of consolidation would be about $2.8 million versus $3 million if the city built the Laurel Canyon station and maintained its other stations in downtown and southern Canton.
That’s about $200,000 cheaper in the event of consolidation, but after the initial year, the savings slide down until year four, when the consolidation becomes more expensive each year. By the 10th year, the report estimates that fire services solely from the county would cost Canton about $3.8 million, about $800,000 more than it would if the city provided the services.
Some might not be quick to accept the projections.
“It’s very difficult for me to imagine that in the long term that it wouldn’t be cheaper,” Hobgood said after the meeting, adding that he wanted more time to review the report. “Numbers will do a lot of things. I’m still somewhat skeptical. The bottom line is we really need some good, hard numbers. We really need to get with the county (and talk).”
The report comes after years of debate in Canton on how to improve fire services and build new stations — particularly the one in Laurel Canyon—without too much increase in cost. Many have suggested consolidating with Cherokee County to accomplish those goals, while others have felt Canton should go it alone, almost at any cost.
Initially, merging would keep fire services at a lower cost in Canton, the chief financial officer told the fire services committee Thursday.
“That cost almost becomes prohibitive when you look out four, five-plus years,” Ingram said. “One of the significant reasons for that is the city controls the cost if we do not consolidate.”
Cummins, who has previously spoken of the cost benefits of consolidation, agreed.
“We’d have no control over the cost,” he told the committee. “They would control all the costs. Whether they raise the millage rate or lower the millage rate, we wouldn’t have any real say in that.”
While consolidation or Canton’s independence in fire services have been the main options suggested in the debate, some have suggested a joint venture between the city and county to build a new station in the Laurel Canyon area, as both have a need there.
But in recent weeks, Councilwoman Sandy McGrew has researched the option and reported to the committee fire personnel in the city and county are against such a move “for many reasons.”
“The joint venture I think is off the table, because we can’t control what the county does, and they’re not interested in a joint venture,” McGrew said.
In the meantime, most in Canton seem to agree Laurel Canyon needs a fire station sooner rather than later, and that the city can build it.
Hobgood announced at the last council meeting he wanted the city to go ahead and build the station, perhaps with groundbreaking starting as early as November.
According to Cummins, it could potentially be done without a tax increase, though he said he wanted to continue planning for it and have the council hash out exactly how to pay for it during budget talks in a few months.