The proposal is the topic of three public hearings in August.
For more than a year, the City Council has been embroiled in a battle about fire services and whether to expand the city fire department or consolidate with Cherokee County Fire and Emergency Services.
The majority of the council has stated loudly and clearly that it favors keeping the fire department under the city’s domain and funding any expansion or additional needs with city dollars. But it is questionable whether the residents agree.
The City Council took its case to the voters in a special election in March asking for $6 million to float bonds to pay for two new fire stations and other improvements to fire services. The public voted a resounding “No” to the proposal, with 71 percent rejecting the plan and only 29 percent saying they favored it.
Many residents have indicated instead they prefer some degree of consolidation of services with the county fire department, which already serves Holly Springs, Ball Ground and Waleska.
County leaders have indicated willingness to find a plan for Canton that works for everyone involved.
Now though, the City Council is coming back with plans to hire nine new firefighters as part of the tax hike on the table. The increase would also fund raises for the council and mayor and salary increases for all city employees.
Meantime, the plans for a Laurel Canyon Fire Station have been put on the back burner after a report from the Insurance Services Office that a new station there was not necessary to improve the city’s ISO rating.
Instead, councilmen say the report emphasizes the need for the nine additional firefighters to add to the 27 now serving the city.
No doubt, increasing the staff by that many new firefighters would help improve services, but in the last few years all agencies have had to learn to do more with less because of the downturn in the economy.
Now that the economy is showing some signs of recovery, most cities, the school system and Cherokee County are all either lowering taxes or holding the line to give property owners some needed relief.
To be fair, the city has not increased taxes for many years, but still an almost 18 percent increase seems excessive.
While an improved ISO rating might save each Canton homeowner a few dollars and cents, the proposed tax increase will mean a hefty rise in tax bills for city homeowners.
Of course, most city residents who are over the age of 62 are exempt from property taxes in Canton, and that should not be changed unless the voters do it themselves. It was city residents who voted in the exemption and they should be the ones to remove it.
The majority of the council, four of the six members, are eligible for that exemption. And while that wouldn’t be the deciding factor either way, it makes it a lot less painful for those who are making the decision.
Two of the three councilmen up for re-election in November have already said they don’t plan to seek another term in office. The third has not yet announced plans.
To be a part of saddling the city residents with such a major tax increase as one of the departing councilmembers’ final acts in office seems questionable at best.
City residents have three opportunities at upcoming public hearings to let their thoughts be known. The first is Thursday night at City Hall.
The council ought to listen closely to what the residents want before they make a decision that will linger with city taxpayers for a long time.
Council members should find a cheaper way to improve fire services in the city, by either reconsidering some sort of consolidation with the county or building up to the needed additional firefighters as the tax digest grows.
The City Council needs to abandon its plans for such a steep tax increase. Any other course of action just doesn’t add up.