After passionate pleas from seniors, heated exchanges from the council dais, and repeated jeers and interruptions from the crowd, the voted Thursday night to override the of a that critics fear will erase a decade of voter-approved senior tax exemptions.
Immediately after the 5-1 vote, which establishes a special district to help the city meet some of its long-term fire service needs and shifts some of that burden to Canton's elderly, frustrated residents cleared the room and senior John Rust started to organize a recall of the five council members who "ignored the expressed wishes of every person that was in the meeting."
Earlier in the night, speaker after speaker asked council members to table Thursday's vote, develop a multiyear fire service plan, gather feedback from the public, and put the issue in the hands of the voters in the form of a referendum.
"Put your differences (and) your personality problems away," resident John Fodor told the council. "Sit down. Figure out what the plan is, what's going on, and try to come out collectively with a decision that's amenable to everybody."
Soleil homeowner Steve Bloom echoed that sentiment.
"You cannot make a decision to put an ordinance in effect that doesn't ... say what it's going to mean and what it's going to do," he said. "Please table the motion."
For a moment, it seemed like the council was headed in that direction.
"I think we're on the verge of coming up with a solution that will keep your exemptions," Council member Hooky Huffman told the crowd, "but it will ask every citizen to participate in building up our fire service."
Mayor Gene Hobgood spelled out the proposal, which included a November bond referendum to build two new fire stations.
"Bonds would be paid off over 15 to 20 years," he said. "I don't want to create more debt for our taxpayers without a referendum. Homestead exemptions do not apply to bond debt so every property owner would participate in supporting the building costs for new stations."
But seniors wouldn't be responsible for operational costs. The exemption, which applies to seniors who are at least 62 years old, would remain in tact, Hobgood said.
Huffman asked council members if they would consider postponing Thursday's vote until the Aug. 16 meeting "to allow us to gather our thoughts."
The motion failed 5-1.
"I want these constituents to understand something," said Council member John Beresford, who made the motion to override the mayor's veto. "I represent the entire citizenry of Canton, which happens to be some young folks, too, who are struggling, who can't walk off and find a job, who has not had a raise in three to four years. I, along with my colleagues, are thinking of the entire population."
The same five council members who voted for the fire district ordinance on July 19 were the same five who voted to override the mayor's veto on Thursday. Again, Council member Glen Cummins was the lone dissenter.
"I did speak to the attorney general today—personally," Hobgood said. "And I can tell you he has concerns (about removing the senior homestead exemption by creating a special district)."
- Council members Hooky Huffman, Bill Bryan, John Beresford, Jack Goodwin and Bob Rush voted to override the mayor's veto of the fire district ordinance. Council member Glen Cummins voted against it.
- Watch the meeting: To watch the called council meeting in its entirety, go to http://www.livestream.com/cityofcanton?t=911889