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City Council Approves Fire Bond Referendum

Citizens will be able to vote whether or not to approve up to $6 million in bonds to pay for up to three new fire stations in Canton.

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.

Etowahwah January 18, 2013 at 02:51 PM
As a citizen stated last night, we will work to defeat this fire referendum! This Council has repeatedly demonstrated no interest in listening to the citizens, so why should we trust them on this? Plus, it is quite apparent they have NO clue as to the actual cost of the new fire stations and how they would equip and staff them. There are holes in their plan that are bigger than the reservoir debacle. Let's get these amateurs out of office and then look at the best way to address our fire services. I, like many others, will not let them take any more of my taxes when they can't even get through a council meeting with personally attacking one another and the citizens who speak up.
Username January 18, 2013 at 05:48 PM
"Hey lets spend 6 million on erecting buildings and on interest for trucks, and figure out how to pay for equipment, and fireman later." I don't see how the 3 new fire departments can produce any measurable savings for the residents and their homeowners insurance if they haven't even figured out the total package cost.... Especially since they haven't factored in the true cost for equipment and manpower for each fire station. Are these fire stations even needed? What are the response times for the 3 areas currently? VISION - I think not. Have they even thought about the needs that may be proposed by the new Economic Director? What if this person hires a city planner to design and build attractions to drive new business to Canton. It may require even more cost for fire stations in the future if they don't take the time to put together a VISION of the new Canton. VISION - I think not.
Change For Canton January 18, 2013 at 06:56 PM
Yes, it is time to get the "NO" vote out! Show these inept councilman that we are tired of their wasteful spending and poor money management. Hey, I guess there was not enough money in the stormwater fund for this one.
I tell it like I see it January 19, 2013 at 01:00 AM
So I guess when stations 16, 11, and 9 are all on calls...which happens more often than not...your house can just burn down or your emergency will just have to wait. Canton is growing and the public services, including PD, has to grow too. If we don't get these stations and the responce time to your "emergency" takes longer than normal then don't dare cry about it!
Clark Yaggy January 19, 2013 at 04:56 PM
Wow! What negativity in these posted comments! I was at the meeting on Thursday and, in my opinion, the Fire referendum discussion was a great example of how coucil discussions and debate shoud be handled. There were good questions among the councilmen and mayor, all were appropriately answered, and the vote was taken. The referendum in March to approve these bonds should, in my opinion, be passed. The City is facing a downgraded insurance fire rating that will increase the cost of our Homeowner's Insurance coverages if the improvements are not made. I, like many of you, will be looking to see just how much, if any, our City taxes will be affected by the City borrowing this money over 20 years and having to schedule paying it back, including interest (the rate will be unknown until the bids for underwriting the bonds, in other words the loan, come back, but the interest rate will be known at the time of the March referendum).
Clark Yaggy January 19, 2013 at 05:07 PM
Just a clarification: As reported above in Mr. Ove's article, the Mayor "was especially concerned about leasing fire trucks and having to pay interest on them for the next 20 years." More correctly, at least as I understood it, the Mayor thought that maybe leasing the needed fire trucks and other equipment might be a less expensive alternative than purchasing them with bond money (which is akin to a 20 year loan). He said he understood this kind of equipment has essentially a 10-year depreciable life, so looking down the road, he wondered if it was appropriate to still be paying off the purchased equipment in years 11-20 when the useful life of the equipment may have ended and replacement equipment may have to be obtained. So, he thought, perhaps leasing the equipemt over a 10-year period needed to be considered. This likely will all be studied and resolved before the bond issue comes up for its March vote. Even if not, what was clear is that the bonds don't have to be sold all at once in a $6 million block. The City can sell bonds (i.e., borrow the money), up to that maximum, as it needs the money to build and/or equip the stations on the phased basis that is currently planned. Again, I thought the discussion in the Council chambers was a good one, and showed how this group can indeed work together when it wants to. Incidentally, Councilman Goodwin offered to share with whomever needs it the details of how the projected costs were arrived at.
Glen Cummins February 24, 2013 at 01:01 AM
The Taxes on homes without the senior homestead exemption will see an increase as follows when all is completed in four years: $100,000 home $148; $200,000 home $296; and a $300,000 $444.

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