Instead, the council reviewed a proposed ordinance during its meeting Thursday that would create a separate fire district within the city limits, a plan some are saying is an attempt to reduce the break seniors get on city taxes.
The proposal, submitted by Councilman Bob Rush as an alternative to joining Cherokee County, would include the city reducing its 6.88 millage rate by 2.88 mills, which he said 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 Mayor Gene Hobgood, who favors consolidating fire with the county, said he was opposed to the idea of a separate fire district, adding he thought it was a way to get residents who take advantage of the city’s senior homestead exemption to pay additional property taxes.
During the meeting, Hobgood called the proposed district a “disingenuous scheme” to eliminate the homestead exemption for residents age 62 and older.
Rush on Friday said the tax would have no impact on the exemption, and is the most reasonable way the city can implement to solve its fire protection woes.
“It’s probably the only way Canton can look at keeping its fire department without raising its millage rate to a higher than practical (level),” he said.
Councilman John Beresford, an outspoken critic of consolidation, said the city has an “excellent fire department” and noted the city may end up implementing the tax to do the things they want to do.
He also said the city has had Cherokee County “hovering” over the city to make a decision, and noted it was not the time for the city to rush into making a decision.
Councilman Bill Bryan said the city needed to stop talking about consolidation because it is “not going to happen.”
Councilman Jack Goodwin, who alluded to the numerous cities who have seceded from Fulton County in the past several years, added “we don’t need to give away our city.”
However, Councilman Glen Cummins said the estimated annual revenue generated for the proposed tax, which is about $436,000, “will not buy you one fire station.”
“We will have to generate additional revenue somewhere else,” he said, adding he felt the impact of the district would not be felt until at least fiscal year 2014.
Cummins also added other council members who do not favor consolidation should bring forth an alternative plan the city could begin to pursue.
The council asked City Manager Scott Wood to work with Beresford and Goodwin to come up with a five-year plan outlining the city’s fire services need, which would be considered at a future meeting.
Canton earlier this year began exploring ways to shore up its fire protection with the establishment of a committee.
The committee made up of Beresford, Cummins and 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 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.
The city is eyeing whether to build two new fire stations, one near Great Sky and Laurel Canyon along Highway 140/Reinhardt College Parkway, and one along Commerce Boulevard near Highway 140/Hickory Flat Highway.
The Canton City Council also:
* Heard from resident Andy Bonner, who said he opposed creating a fire district tax; Elaine Wood, who asked the city to consider purchasing Port-A-Potty for the Canton Victory Garden East; Thomas Weaver, who thanked the city for considering changing its ordinances to allow residents to carry knives in city park;
* Accepted the first reading of an amendment to its ordinance to allow residents to carry knives in city parks, which mirrors a change in state law that recently went into effect;
* Accepted the first reading of an amendment to the city’s alcohol ordinance to reduce the required food-to-alcohol ratio to 50-50; City Attorney Bobby Dyer will bring back another change to allow the ratio to be reduced to 40-60 percent for the central business district;
* Reviewed a lease agreement with TPA Realty for the proposed boat ramp launch site at the Hickory Log Creek Reservoir;
* Discussed a propose lease with the property owners for the vacant lot at the corner of Church and East Main Streets;
* Reviewed a preliminary recommendation from the city’s Stormwater Advisory Board to reduce the city’s fee by 25 percent; the council will discus the proposal during its fiscal year 2013 budget work session, scheduled for 3 p.m. Thursday;
* Tabled until August a request by the Cherokee County Board of Education to change Academy Street back into a two-way street.
Councilman Hooky Huffman was not present.