Though a firm decision hasn’t been made, interim city manager Glen Cummins, who is also a first-term councilman, says he and others in the city believe it may be cheaper to haul off the dirt from the Highway 140 site rather than buy new property.
City staff members have searched for other land to purchase in place of the city-owned site, which sits next to Publix, near the entrance of the sprawling, northern Canton neighborhood. But Cummins said the land prospects have been too expensive, in a bad location or poor quality.
“The minute you ask the question, the price goes up, and (landowners) don’t realize that we have options,” said Cummins, who has applied to take the city manager job permanently. “We’re trying to limit the cost of this station to $950,000, max. If all of a sudden you’ve got a piece of property that’s half of a million dollars and you haven’t even graded … you’re way beyond your cost in the budget.”
Officials have estimated it would cost between $250,000 and $350,000 to move the dirt from the site, which was donated by the developer of Laurel Canyon. Former City Manager Scott Wood attempted to give the dirt away to anyone who’d haul it off for several years before his resignation in January, but he was never successful.
Cummins said the properties Canton has looked into have ranged from about $500,000 to $1 million, roughly.
Mayor Gene Hobgood disagrees a site can’t be found for less than the cost to move the dirt.
“We can certainly buy a site for less,” he said. “It’s just a difference of opinion; I totally would disagree. I’ve been in the real estate business off and on and do appraisal work, and I have a reasonably good idea what the market is here in Cherokee County.”
Hobgood added the owners of the land Canton has looked at should never have been told that it was the city interested in buying. He said that could have driven up the price.
Cummins said the city is still interested in other property, and “If another site comes along that’s more suitable in all respects, then of course we’re going to consider it.”
Councilwoman Sandy McGrew, who represents Laurel Canyon, said she needed more concrete information on how much the costs of the city-owned site would compare to buying a new piece of land before making her decision on what to support.
“If all properties in the vicinity are in the $500,000 range, $400,000 range, it does make more sense to move that dirt on property we already own,” she said. But she added she’d like to know how accurate the estimates to move the dirt have been.
Either way, McGrew said the residents she’s talking to are just happy the city is finally moving forward with the station after years of discussion and they aren’t so much concerned with exactly where it goes.
The city began to ramp up the planning for the station in April, when Hobgood charged Cummins with identifying a piece of property and working out the other details for the station.
The announcement came after years of heated debate about how Canton should service the more far-flung areas of the city, a goal many felt could be accomplished by a consolidation of fire departments with Cherokee County. The Laurel Canyon station, though, had to be built either way, Hobgood said in announcing his plans.
The mayor said at the time he’d like the city to break ground in November, which Cummins says is still the hope.
Because of the timeline, Cummins said he plans to make a recommendation to the City Council during its June meeting about which site should be used for the station. He said he is shooting for July 1, 2015 for the station to begin operations.
Once the station is staffed and operating, Cummins said he expected it to cost Canton about $550,000 a year, though he was clear “that’s not an exact figure.”
“I can tell you this: it’s going to be significantly less than if we let the county do it,” he added.