Council Will Investigate More Fire Service Options
The city council will look at contracting an outside firm to examine alternatives to the defeated fire bond referendum whilst also looking at what can be done now to construct a station in Laurel Canyon.
After the defeat of the $6 million fire bond referendum on Tuesday by Canton voters, the city council had to re-focus on ways to provide the highest quality fire service to its residents.
Councilman Glen Cummins has proposed three potential solutions to the fire services problem, including consolidating with Cherokee County Fire and Emergency Services.
Mayor Gene Hobgood directed Cummins and councilmen Bill Bryan and Jack Goodwin to resume the dormant fire services committee to examine options available to the city.
Cummins' other proposals were hybridization options, including the development of a highly-trained volunteer force or a contract with the county to construct and maintain two additional stations while the city will maintain its two stations and continue making system improvements.
The consolidation issue drew some criticism from Councilman John Beresford, who felt that the council should move past both consolidation and the $6 million bond issue.
"I was hoping to have a fresh start tonight in trying to work through the issues we have in order to get fire services we need," said Beresford, "But Mr. Cummins wants to belabor the point of consolidation."
Bryan, who admitted he would be hesitant to serve on a new fire services committee, expressed concern at the lack of communication between the county and city during the initial consolidation discussions and seemed hesitant to re-engage with the county due to past experiences.
Additionally, Bryan was worried that the county's removal of the senior tax exemption in Holly Springs when that city consolidated fire services with the county would happen in Canton should the departments merge. The loss of the senior tax exemption is a deal breaker for Bryan.
Councilman Hooky Huffman proposed a motion that would direct City Manager Scott Wood to assess the resources currently available to the city that could be used to build a fire station in Laurel Canyon as soon as possible.
"We need to move forward, it is dragged out too long and this next committee will drag it out even longer," Huffman said. The motion passed. No "holes in the ground" will be dug until a thorough look at the financial resources.
Councilman Bob Rush will look to contact the consultants that performed a similar fire services study for Garden City and ask them to perform one for Canton. Rush proposed a motion to reach out to Ecological Planning Group to investigate all funding options available to the city.
Council members were split on the issue, with Bryan saying outsiders would "de-politicize" the issue, while Cummins felt that asking third-party experts to look at funding options when new fire service options haven't even been decided on would be putting the cart before the horse.
Huffman didn't want the city fire services committee to be involved with third party consultants at all.
Other items the city council discussed at their nearly three hour meeting included:
- The swearing in of the 21-member Commission on Canton's Future. Hobgood told the new commission members, "this council supports your efforts financially and morally."
- The new pension plan, which not change anything for current city employees. The new plan would have an employee contribution rate of two percent, which would be matched by the city. In May, when the new plan comes in to effect, the amount of payroll money paid towards premiums will decrease.
- The city will send a letter of support to Cherokee County in regards to Chairman Buzz Ahrens' request for funding from Cherokee cities to fund the county office of economic development. The council will not commit to providing the funding until they have a better understanding of what the county plans to do with the money.
- The formal ribbon-cutting for the Canton Theatre's movie apparatus will be held at April 4 at 5 p.m.
To watch a replay of Thursday's meeting, follow this link and look for the March 21 meeting video.