The Canton City Council voted 5-1, with Council member Glen Cummins opposing, to create a new fire district in the city of Canton.
The decision was made in front of a crowd of more than 50 residents who packed council chambers and regularly applauded those who denounced the plan during the public comment portion of the meeting.
The plan has been widely criticized by Canton’s older population as a way for the city to work around its senior homestead exemption.
Hobgood said he is considering whether he would veto the ordinance and could make his decision by the middle of next week.
The city’s charter, which was revised earlier this year and granted the mayor the power to veto ordinances, stipulates the mayor must veto an ordinance within 10 days from when it was adopted.
He then has to communicate with the city clerk why he vetoed the ordinance and schedule a called meeting for the council to revisit the veto.
Hobgood said the called meeting will most likely be conducted between the council’s Aug. 2 work session and the Aug. 16 regular meeting.
Hobgood said he didn’t think it was possible for the city to implement an ad valorem tax for city-related purposes that would bypass the senior exemption, which was approved by voters in November 2001.
The district, which was originally proposed by Council member Bob Rush, is an alternative to the city is an alternative to the city consolidating its fire operations with Cherokee County.
While no actual millage rate has been voted on for the district, Rush noted he used the county’s 3.129 millage rate as an example.
That example includes the city reducing its 6.88 millage rate by 2.88 mills, which is roughly the amount of the city’s millage rate used to pay for fire services.
The city would then implement a citywide fire district tax of 3.129 mills, the same rate the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners sets for its unincorporated residents as well as residents in Ball Ground, Holly Springs, Waleska and Nelson citizens who reside in Cherokee.
Canton grants an $112,000 exemption on property for seniors age 62 or older who live in their homes.
Most residents denounced the ordinance as a way for the city to get around the exemption.
A few residents did note the all city residents should pay their fair share when it came to enhancing city protection and noted seniors would end up paying more for fire services if the city remained independent or joined with Cherokee.
Resident Dan Casey noted he didn’t see any adequate fire protection in the creation of an ordinance.
Another resident, Steve Bloom, questioned why the city did not schedule town hall meetings to allow residents to provide feedback on a possible ordinance or consolidating with Cherokee County.
Casey added local residents have become fed up with local, state and national leaders adding additional taxes “when they aren’t able to mange what they already have.”
Arnie Kornblum noted the proposal could be viewed as a minor increase to seniors, but added the cost could end up being an “additional burden” to 17.4 percent of seniors in Canton who are below the poverty line.
Kornblum added residents would have to negotiate whether they should decrease their food consumption if the tax went into place.
Frank Warrington warned many seniors in the city do not have diverse options when it comes to bringing in more money to pay for taxes as many are on fixed incomes.
“You are putting a burden on them when they can least afford it,” he added.
However, resident Bill Magruder said consolidation is in the best economic interest of the city and said some on the council had an emotional attachment to the city’s fire department.
Resident Wayne Rogers characterized the ordinance as a “continued attack on seniors,” and commended Hobgood and Cummins for “understanding the value seniors add to the city.”
When it was time for the council to mull the issue, only Cummins and Hobgood, both of whom have expressed favoritism for consolidation with the county, noted their opposition.
Cummins characterized the proposed ordinance as a “diversionary method” around the proposed exemption.
He also said the district does not do a single action the council can already do when it comes to enhancing the city’s fire protection.
He added he could not support a “backdoor method” to take away the exemption.
Council member John Beresford said the city has failed to take care of its fire protection and services.
Council member Hooky Huffman said he thought the council should consider not implementing the ordinance as he learned Hobgood and Cummins on Thursday met with county leaders to discuss how both entities could consolidate while leaving the exemption in place.
Huffman said city and county leader discussed the possibility of grandfathering in seniors who currently have the homestead exemption in place.
The full tax would only be applied once the property changes hands.
Huffman said the city needs to step back and assess that possibility.
He also expressed his feelings about the city not addressing a “big problem.”
“Now we are looking for a quick fix, which nearly gives away the things all you taxpayers have paid for,” he added.