The Soleil, Laurel Canyon and Great Sky Communities met yesterday with two City Council Members in favor of the Fire District Ordinance and last Thursday evening with the Mayor and the one City Council member opposed to the Fire District Ordinance.
Our Cherokee County Commissioner, Harry Johnston, was unable to attend the meeting yesterday, but he did attend the meeting last Thursday evening.
I wanted to share with you Commissioner Johnston's comments in his email below. After hearing from both sides of the issue, it appears that it would be in the best interest of the City of Canton to put the fire district ordinance on hold and revisit consolidation with the county for the fire department. It appears that consolidation would be a WIN-WIN for both the City of Canton and Cherokee County.
I urge the city council to at least discuss consolidation once again, since some new favorable issues have been presented by Cherokee County per below email from Harry Johnston, Cherokee County Commissioner. These new issues have been presented since the City Council last discussed consolidation. In light of these new issues, it should me a must for the City Council to discuss consolidation once again.
Thanks for your time,
• • •
The key points I see in favor of consolidation:
1. The county's ISO rating is expected to improve to 4 (same as Canton's) upon completion of the new fire training center late this year or early next year.
2. Canton's rating faces a possible downgrade if the planned two new stations aren't built.
3. Canton doesn't have the money to build and staff the two new stations.
4. The county needs to replace two stations in those general areas anyway. If we consolidate fire service with Canton, we'll shift those station locations into the city limits to meet both city and county needs. The city will contribute a portion of the construction cost and the county will pay for the rest plus all operations costs. We already have the fire trucks and other equipment for them.
5. The county would either: a.) bill city residents directly for the 3.394 mill fire tax, as we do Ball Ground and Waleska, or b.) collect the equivalent of that amount from the city, and have the city continue to bill its citizens for fire services. That's the model currently used with Holly Springs.
6. For taxpayers who currently have the city senior tax exemption, we believe we can offer an exemption from the county fire tax on a "grandfathered" basis for as long as they own their current homes. We'd get some complaints about that from unincorporated taxpayers. But I believe most or all the county commissioners are willing to deal with those complaints for the near term because of the immediate benefits of consolidation to everyone.
7. It's been suggested there could be a legal problem with directly offering such an exemption to city residents but not to unincorporated residents, even on a grandfathered basis. If that proves to be the case, option '5b' above should achieve that objective without legal issues. For eventual city-county tax equity, we'd ask that the city gradually increase its payment to the county to reflect a phase-out of that exemption for this purpose. But the city could decide whether to to actually phase out that portion of the exemption (by canceling it going forward but grandfathering those who have it now), or to continue to offer it indefinitely and make up the difference from other taxpayers as it does now. Again, I'm sorry I can't make this meeting.
Harry Harry Johnston | Commissioner, Post 1
Cherokee County Board of Commissioners
1130 Bluffs Parkway, Canton, GA 30114
Office: 678-493-6000 | Fax: 678-493-6013