Video: Fire District Is a Tax, Not a Fee
"It is now time to develop and consider plan B," Canton Mayor Gene Hobgood said.
Update, 5 a.m. Friday
Original report, 10 a.m. Thursday
When Canton Mayor Gene Hobgood vetoed a fire district ordinance that critics feared would erase a decade of voter-approved senior tax exemptions, he said he would seek an opinion from Attorney General Sam Olens' office on the legality of implementing the measure.
Some in the city thought that the district should be considered a fee rather than a tax because it is intended to help the city meet some of its long-term fire service needs.
Hobgood and the Canton City Council learned the findings Monday in the form of an email from city attorney Bobby Dyer. Hobgood shared them with local media outlets Wednesday, a little more than a month after the council voted Aug. 2 to override the mayor's veto and less than 24 hours after the city abruptly canceled today's two public hearings to begin the process of setting the millage rate for the district.
"The fire district tax would be considered a tax," Hobgood said. "Not a fee."
And because it is a tax, "it cannot be collected in 2012 because the fire district is really a new tax district which had to be in existence as of Jan. 1 in order to collect the taxes this year," he said. "And ... the senior tax exemption would apply."
Hobgood, who declined to release the email from Dyer because of attorney-client privilege, said the courtesy review from the attorney general's office "certainly validates" his July 26 veto.
"My goal as mayor has been to protect the city from costly lawsuits or any other harmful events," he said.
"Our citizens really should not be penalized for some poor planning on our part. Therefore, I think we must go back to the drawing board and decide how to provide this essential service at the most economical cost to our citizens."
Council member Glen Cummins, one of only two council members who attended the press conference, said that he has another plan in which "the cost to construct and service the debt ... will cost the average residential owner a net of $1 a month to build these two required fire stations."
Beyond that, Cummins said he wasn't ready to discuss the plan.
First, he said, the city needs to repeal the fire district ordinance.
"It is my intention to make the motion," Cummins said.
He said he can't make the motion at tonight's council meeting because it is a work session. A vote can't be taken at work sessions unless it is an emergency.
Hooky Huffman, the other council member at Wednesday's press conference, said he doesn't "see at this particular time where it calls for an emergency.
"We can keep it intact and do nothing with it and it just lies there. And then after the plan is developed, whatever the next plan B will be, and if it calls in the best interest to get rid of the district, then we'll get rid of the district."
- Canton Abruptly Cancels Fire District Public Hearings
- Council Overrides Mayor's Veto, Resident Wants 5 Members Recalled
- Special Meeting to Address Mayor's Veto
- After Veto, City Schedules Meeting
- Email: 'We Believe We Can Offer an Exemption'
- Canton Mayor Vetoes Fire District Plan
- Mayor: Fire District Veto 'Likely'
- Mayor: Fire District Is a 'Scheme'
- Fire Department Consolidation Vote Fails