The Canton City Council voted to authorize a special election which will allow voters to have their say on a proposed $6 million bond to construct up to three new fire stations within city limits.
"This referendum will be held out of respect for the taxpayers," said councilman Bill Bryan. "I think it's a historical day that council is allowing taxpayers a say in this measure. We think of enough of y'all to let you make the decision."
Councilman Hooky Huffman echoed Bryan's sentiments, and responded to statements made by citizens during the public comment session that city leaders lacked vision.
"This is the first step in our vision for the city," Huffman said. "I would have to question the vision of those who are against this."
If voters say yes to the bond referendum, the city will issue up to $6 million in bonds that will pay for the construction of up to three new fire stations within the city limits. The stations will be constructed at The Bluffs, Laurel Canyon and Market Place, with the Laurel Canyon station being built first.
The bonds can be issued incrementally, and the city does not have to issue all $6 million in bonds.
Bryan proposed an initial bond of $800,000 to pay for Laurel Canyon in 2013, and take out more bonds as needed for the next phases of the three-year construction project.
Mayor Gene Hobgood had reservations about taking out $6 million, and was especially concerned about leasing fire trucks and having to pay interest on them for the next 20 years.
"We could pay up to $1 million dollars in interest on the fire trucks," Hobgood said. "We could build four stations for $4.2 million, not 6. Vehicles shouldn't be in the referendum."
Huffman suggested getting the referendum on the ballot first, then worrying about the issue of vehicles and how to pay for them.
Although the bonds would pay for the fire stations and potentially vehicles, the bond cannot pay for the salaries of the fire fighters themselves. There is a probability that millage rates will have to inrease to pay the fire fighters.
The issue will come to a vote on March 19. Between now and then, council will reach out to citizens in order to convince them of the benefits of the bond. Councilman John Beresford felt the support of Hobgood was essential to this effort.
"We need the mayor's support to get this bond approved," Beresford said. "You have a lot of clout in this city and we'd really want to have you on our team."
Beresford was "shocked" that the three-part-agreement that included Hobgood's support of the referendum in exchange for keeping his administrative assistant collapsed.
The other main issue the council discussed was the appointment and pay of the mayor's administrative assistant. Two motions that were voted on will restrict the mayor to hiring one administrative assistant and removing the funding from the mayor's office that pays for the assistant.
The motion to restrict the mayor to one staff member passed, but will need a second vote in February to go into effect. Councilmen passed the motion to take away the funding of the assistant position, but were advised that a seperate budget amendment would be needed to remove the assistant's insurance and benefits.
Additionally, it was learned that the administrative assistant was not terminated with the passage of the motion, but would require a seperate notice from either HR or the city manager.
Councilman Bob Rush's motion to alter a section of the charter to bring it in line with recommendations made by former Gov. Roy Barnes at the previous meeting will be disussed again during the first meeting in February, and no further action was taken on it.
The last motion of the night came from Bryan, who introduced for consideration a proposal to change both monthly meetings into voting meetings, as opposed to the current model of one work session and one voting meeting.
If you would like to watch the replay of the meeting, follow this link and click on the Jan. 17 council meeting.