In an email that surfaced Wednesday in a , Cherokee County Commissioner Harry Johnston said if the city and county fire departments merged, the county would be able to extend exemptions to Canton seniors who already enjoy tax breaks.
"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," he wrote. "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."
That wasn't the case when the Canton City council voted down a plan to start formal city-county fire merger discussions at its June 21 meeting. That plan failed, in part, because seniors would have had to pay a fire district tax to the county.
Council member Bob Rush proposed a controversial alternative to consolidation to keep that money in the city instead. Council members voted 5-1 on July 19 to create a fire district ordinance that would help Canton meet some of its long-term fire service needs and possibly shift some of that burden to elderly residents who have enjoyed a decade of voter-approved tax exemptions.
As Rush put it in an exchange with Mayor Gene Hobgood, "if we merge with the county as you insist or we create a fire district, the tax that the people are going to pay is going to be the same amount of money."
The mayor, who is a proponent of consolidation, vetoed Rush's alternative on July 26.
"This ordinance sends the message to our seniors and disabled persons that the city does not understand or appreciate the value that these individuals provide to our city," he said while announcing the veto. "It further says that the city will not keep its promise to you when the city enticed many of you to move to our city."
The is scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. tonight "to discuss and take possible action to override the mayor’s veto of an ordinance to create a fire protection district; to provide for the boundaries of a fire protection district; and to provide for a tax to be collected within the fire protection district," city clerk Susan Stanton said.
Return to Canton-Sixes Patch at 6 p.m. to watch tonight's special called meeting.