Councilman to discuss funding for fire district
by Marcus E. Howard
September 27, 2012 02:08 AM | 1665 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
CANTON – Canton City Councilman John Beresford is expected to explain his plan to fund the citywide fire district at a meeting set for 2 p.m. today in the conference room at Canton City Hall.

He and other members of the council’s Fire Protection Services Committee will discuss the plan that is modeled after the stormwater fee. Beresford said during brief comments at last Thursday’s council meeting that the proposed fee would cost city residents $5.17 per month or $62.04 annually.

Beresford said his plan already has the support of five of the council’s six members.

According to the plan, the fire fee would be based on stormwater impervious units and assumes there are 20,600 impervious units, including commercial, in the city. In total, the fee is expected to raise $1.3 million per year.

Officials estimate that it would cost $3.7 million to fund proposed improvements to fire services, including the construction of three new fire stations, plus an additional $1.3 million in operational costs.

“What we’re trying to do is keep the assessment as low as possible for the residents and businesses here in the city,” Beresford said Wednesday. “But we do need to raise revenue so that we can fund the fire stations, fire equipment and the personnel that is needed.”

Stormwater utility fees are calculated based on the amount of impervious surface – rooftops, driveways, patios, parking lots, sidewalks, etc. – of each city property. Bills are calculated based on total square footage of impervious property. One unit is 3,999-square-feet for residential and 2,000-square-feet per unit for commercial.

Beresford said the $5.17 fee he came up with is a working figure and could end up being more, but likely not less.

The whole idea of a fire fee would not be necessary, he said, if the city had simply increased the millage rate. Beresford said that after watching the city grow, officials have now been forced to play catch-up by creating the fire district and finding ways to fund it.

“It has been the desire of the mayor to not have millage increases in these past four years,” said Beresford. “We haven’t even been revenue neutral. We haven’t done anything. You can’t operate a city on everything going up, additional services needed, and yet not have some sort of revenue flow.”

However, Mayor Gene Hobgood said on Wednesday that the city has had a surplus of revenues over expenditures annually for the past few years.

“No one has suggested that that surplus be applied to the fire protection,” he said.

“Mr. Beresford has certainly not suggested that we raise taxes through the general fund in order to achieve what he wants to achieve. My feeling is that that may very well could work and perhaps I could support just raising the general fund taxes to assist and help our fire protection.”

But the mayor has made it known that he is against modeling fire protecting funding after the stormwater fee, which he feels is inequitable and is an attempt to get around the senior and disabled person exemptions. Furthermore, he called it a “stretch” to relate stormwater impervious units to fire protection.

On Sept. 6, the state Attorney General’s Office issued an informal opinion that questioned the legality of a previous city proposal to implement a fire district tax. The office called the fire district a tax and not a fee, defined as compensation for a service rendered.

“It’s my understanding that the methods of calculation for a fee for service must have at least some relationship to the purpose of the service being rendered,” Hobgood said.

“There are some that want seniors to pay more and to bypass the senior homestead exemption. I just don’t feel that is exactly right, simply because the senior exemption was put in by referendum. The people voted to allow seniors to have that homestead exemption. Now if they want to do it right, call for a referendum and do away with it.”

Beresford said he feels confident that the plan will move forward and hopes the mayor will not veto it. The city is really in need of fire protection improvements, he said.

“We’re not playing games here,” said Beresford. “This is a real life situation.”
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