Canton Mayor Gene Hobgood this moring vetoed a plan passed by the city council on July 19 that would set up a special fire district tax which would include a 3.12 mill tax to improve the city's fire services.
"After careful consideration I feel that I have no choice but to veto the Canton Fire District Ordinance," Hobgood said.
The Canton City Council, by a vote of 5-1, created the special district that would help the city meet some of its long-term fire service needs and possibly shift some of that burden to elderly residents who have enjoyed a decade of voter-approved tax exemptions.
Hobgood said he will call a special meeting of the council next week to consider alternatives to the district and provide council members with the opportunity to override his veto.
Faced with conflicting opinions as to the legality of the ordinance from Canton City Attorney and attorneys for state municipal and commission associations, Hobgood said he will seek an opinion from state Attorney General Sam Olens.
The current tax exemption, which applies to seniors who are at least 62 years old, drew so many members of that demographic to last Thursday's meeting that some had to stand. Of the 17 speakers who signed up to speak during the 10-minute public comment period, more than a dozen people spoke about the fire district. Currently, approximately 1,183 senior citizens receive an exemption.
"This ordinance sends the message to our seniors and disabled persons that the city does not understand or appreciate the value that these individuals provide to our city," Hobgood said while announcing the veto. "It further says that the city will not keep its promise to you when the city enticed many of you to move to our city."
Council member Bob Rush said during the meeting when the fire district was approved that it doesn't immediately alter the city's tax structure, a conclusion that drew jeers from the audience.
"The one thing I would like to clarify is that we're voting on the creation of a fire district," he said. "We're not voting on imposing any particular tax. The tax, if it's going to be imposed, would be done at a later date after proper analysis is made. If we look at the numbers and we say it's not convenient, the fire district would be relatively irrelevant."
It was Rush who suggested the fire district, after a plan to start formal city-county fire merger discussions was voted down at the June 21 meeting.
"If we merge with the county as you insist or we create a fire district, the tax that the people are going to pay is going to be the same amount of money," Rush told the mayor during the July 5 work session.
Hobgood said today that in addition to possibly being unenforceable and placing a financial burden on older and disabled residents the ordinance was passed without adequate consideration of alternative revenue sources and cost-avoidance schemes.
"There has been insufficient study and a lack of adequate information provided the council to make an informed decision based on a fire services protection plan," Hobgood said."This plan should be for five to 10 years minimum and should be throughly evaluated by council prior to any decision."
Check back with Patch for updates on this issue.
- Will Canton Mayor Gene Hobgood Veto the Fire District Ordinance?
- Mayor: Fire District Is a 'Scheme'
- City Makes Plans for New Fire Station
- Fire Department Consolidation Vote Fails