Mayor Gene Hobgood said during the city council’s meeting Thursday night he’d like staff to begin searching for a piece of land and get prices for design of the station, with work beginning as early as November.
“I think we’ve sort of drug this thing out long enough to where we need to move forward,” Hob-good told the council. “I think we’ve very capable of getting it done. We can do it.”
A new fire station to service the far-flung areas of northern Canton, now serviced by the downtown station and Cherokee County’s Station 9, has been discussed for years and caused heated disagreements over how it could be built. It was also considered the most needed of three new fire stations planned under a voter-rejected bond referendum in 2013.
Hobgood told the council that, since three new members came on board in January, the discussion about fire services in Canton, which raged regularly with the last city council, has mostly gone by the wayside. The discussion has mainly focused on whether Canton would build the new stations or allow its fire department to be absorbed into that of Cherokee County.
“It seems to me, at least we’ve sort of started back at the drawing board again, looking at different alternatives, which is a good thing and understandable. But it also puts us a step back, I think, from where we were,” Hobgood said. “I don’t want to give the perception that’s probably already out there, that we’re not making a lot of progress, because I think we need a station in our northwest area of the city. And we need to be moving on it.”
For Councilman Hooky Huffman, the mayor’s announcement was long overdue.
“I’m happy, obviously. That excites me,” Huffman, a longtime vocal advocate for the new station, said after the meeting Thursday. “Tax collections are up. We can afford this. It’s not going to be an issue. And this will go down without necessarily having a tax increase. We’re not talking about having a tax increase.”
Huffman added he was still “absolutely” opposed to a potential merger with Cherokee County’s fire department, which some — including the mayor — have suggested would be the better and more cost-effective option to improve fire services in Canton.
Hobgood, though, told the council although the station he’s pushing would be a city of Canton operation, his opinion on the advantages of consolidation hadn’t changed.
“Still, I’ve made no bones about how I feel about consolidation in the long-term,” he said. “Right now, I still feel the very same way, but in the short term, we need to go ahead and build this station. We can hash all this other stuff out as we go along.”
Canton Fire Chief Dean Floyd said after the meeting he supported the plans to move forward on a Laurel Canyon station, as it would relieve some of the burden from the fire station downtown and Cherokee County’s Station 9.
“We’re looking at call volume, and we’re looking at travel distance,” Floyd said. “That’ll start easing down.”
Hobgood said the council’s fire services committee should continue researching different options for how to address the need for improved fire services in general. Its next meeting is April 4.
In the meantime, the mayor asked interim City Manager Glen Cummins, a council member, to work with Floyd to find land for the Laurel Canyon station in the next 30 to 45 days and have options for an architect a few months after that.
“We could have a groundbreaking as early as the third week or so of November,” Hobgood said. “There’s no reason we can’t meet this schedule in my opinion, if we go ahead and move.”
The land is needed because the lot the city had previously considered using has about 50,000 cubic yards of dirt piled on it, making the land, gifted to Canton by the developer of Laurel Canyon, not usable.
“We can’t spend $300,000 moving dirt and still utilize that site at a reasonable cost,” Hobgood told the council. “You could buy a site for considerably less than that.”
Hobgood estimated the cost construction on the fire station to be around $500,000 or $600,000.