While the county is offering its updated plan, discussion on whether to even continue to talk about consolidation is up for debate at Thursday’s City Council meeting, and one council member has proposed a resolution to stop talks on the topic.
County Manager Jerry Cooper provided the documents Friday which he said he and Cherokee County Fire Chief Tim Prather and county commissioners have collaborated on drafting for more than a year.
This comes on the heels of a failed $6 million bond referendum vote to build three new fire stations in Canton and contentious debate within the City Council as to how, if not through the bond referendum, to construct the stations.
Within the discussion in recent weeks, council members have suggested that during talks with the county on the possibility of consolidating fire services last year, the county failed to produce a formal plan.
Cooper said these suggestions prompted the county to present the proposed agreement, based on another proposal dated April 2012.
“...After citizens rejected the bond initiative,” he added, “I began finalizing the draft agreement.”
Within the latest document, the county states that it would construct and staff two of the same new fire stations proposed by the bond referendum—one in the Laurel Canyon/Great Sky area and one near Canton Marketplace. Staff and equipment for the stations would be transferred from county stations 9 and 3.
These new stations would cost the city of Canton $500,000 in funds from its 2012 SPLOST and property owned by the city, originally planned for construction of the same stations, the county’s proposal says.
The current rate charged to home owners in Canton for fire services is approximately 3 mills. These fees would be eliminated and replaced by the new rate from Cherokee County, which according to the potential agreement would be 3.394 mills.
Cooper said the consolidation would save Canton taxpayers “millions.”
Canton council members though, are still not on board.
Councilman Bill Bryan said Monday that the agreement issued by Cherokee County is the “same” as the one issued last year.
“It was not a good deal for the Canton taxpayers then,” Bryan said. “And it still is not a good deal for the Canton taxpayers now.”
But Cooper contends the plan has changed since the draft the city council reviewed last year, in construction timelines, billing methods, personnel and how ambulance assignments would work with the two stations.
In a draft provided by Cooper, dated April 2012, it is stated that an ambulance would be based at at least one of the two stations. The new agreement states that each would have an ambulance squad.
Councilman John Beresford, though, said the issue of EMS is not a valid factor in the consolidation conversation, because “state law dictates that the county is responsible for EMS services,” either way.
And on the whole, Beresford disapproves of the county’s new plan and the mere fact that they drew it up in the first place.
“I’m disappointed in the maneuvering the county’s doing,” he said. “We have a class fire department. We are at the fire in a five minute time frame; they’re talking eight minutes or more. I’m disappointed in the county in stepping into our business.”
Councilman Glen Cummins, the most outspoken supporter of exploring the possibility of consolidating with Cherokee County, said he still has some questions he’d like answered, but he is mostly happy with the new agreement.
He said he hopes it will continue the conversation within the city council on the topic.
Meanwhile, Beresford has drafted a resolution stating that the council have “no further discussion of consolidating fire services with Cherokee County unless a detailed proposal is received…”
Beresford said he received the proposal for consolidation with the Cherokee County Fire Department the day after he drafted the resolution.
But even though the county has now produced the proposal, he said he still plans to continue as planned and attempt to stop the discussion at the council’s next meeting Thursday.
If the agreement were to be approved by the city of Canton, the Laurel Canyon/Great Sky station would be slated for completion in 2014 and the Canton Marketplace station in 2015.