With the exception of Councilman Glen Cummins, five out of six members of the Canton City Council voted against a motion to begin talks with the county to merge the city’s fire department with the county.
Cummins, who made the motion, said the council had been beating around the bush when it comes to addressing the city’s fire needs.
His proposal would have directed City Manager Scott Wood to engage County Manager Jerry Cooper on the specifics on what it would take to merge with the county.
Cummins said the merger option seemed to be the most cost-effective.
During the meeting, Cummins said the city would like to negotiate with the county on a collaboration to build two new fire stations in the city limits, one near the Laurel Canyon and Great Sky neighborhoods and near Commerce Boulevard where the replacement Northside Hospital-Cherokee facility will be.
He also said the city would have negotiated to have at least two ambulances housed in fire stations located in its corporate limits and allow city firefighters to have access to a fire training center to be built in the city.
He also said the county could deliver when it comes to providing an equitable level of service.
He said the city needs to come up with solutions to enhance services for its 20,000-plus residents.
“We need to resolve that issue … and this appears to be the best option,” he said.
On Friday, Cummins said consolidation provides the most obvious in fire services that’s best for the city from a financial standpoint.
However, the remaining council members were not sold on Cummins’ rationale.
Council members were mainly concerned with what they believe would be a reduced level of service and whether the county’s split ISO rating of 5 would impact the city’s ISO
Councilman Hooky Huffman said he’d rather wait to begin talks until the county’s report comes back.
Councilman Bob Rush said if the city consolidated and its ISO rating dropped to 5 that would mean an increase of roughly $70 on his annual homeowner’s insurance.
Canton earlier this year began exploring ways to shore up its fire protection with the establishment of a committee.
A committee made up of John Beresford, Cummins and Bill Bryan reviewed several options on the table, including building up to three fire stations or merging its operations with the county.
The committee last month however returned with a recommendation to maintain its ISO rating of 4, which would include the city introducing routine testing of its fire truck pumpers, performing load testing on its ladders and using a secondary method of communicating, such as pagers, with on-duty and off-duty firefighters.
That option, a recommendation issued by a consultant, would keep the city’s Insurance Service Office, or ISO, rating at 4.
The ISO system is used to rate how well fire departments serve their area.
The scale runs from one to 10, with one being the best fire service.
The ratings are used to calculate homeowners’ insurance costs.
Rush later proposed the city reduce its 6.88 millage rate by 2.88 mills and implement a city-wide fire district tax of 3.129 mills to pay for enhanced fire services.
That proposal will be further discussed during the council’s July 5 work session.
Mayor Gene Hobgood said that proposal goes a long way before solving the city’s needs.
“This really does nothing but make seniors pay,” he said.
Councilman John Beresford did not dispute the fact the county had more manpower than the city.
He noted the fire at the Canterbury Ridge Apartments earlier this month demonstrated that, with the county responding with 35 firefighters and Canton only arriving with seven.
Beresford stopped short of supporting consolidation, arguing Cooper recommended the city of Woodstock pass on an offer to consolidate with the county while he was the city manager.
Mayor Gene Hobgood, a supporter of consolidation, said the cost of not merging with the county could be significant in a few years “if we don’t do something else.”
Hobgood on Friday added he was felt consolidation is “probably the best for our city at this time.”
He did say he understood the “emotional” side of not wanting to give up the city fire department, but added unless the city comes up with a “sudden windfall” of money, it will be scrambling to pay for the services later on down the road.
“Taxes are going to rise significantly simply because of that,” he said, adding he will continue to push for consolidation.