FLORENCE, SC (WBTW) – On Tuesday, Florence County Council held a public hearing and reviewed the second reading to of an ordinance to include the West Florence Special Purpose Fire District into the county’s unified fire district.
Earlier this year, a judged ruled in favor of Florence County against the West Florence Fire District. Part of that ruling required Florence County Council to make a plan to include West Florence Fire District in the Florence County Fire District.
When the Florence County Council held a public hearing to listen to concerns about the West Florence Fire Special Purpose District joining the county fire district, no one signed up to speak . Council approved the first reading of the ordinance to make a plan to include the West Florence Fire District.
“We feel like everybody should pay the same protection rate. We do that for emergency services and the sheriff’s office. Everybody pays the same rate. It just made sense to us and [We also want to] better equip all fire departments,” said Kent Caudle, Florence County Council Chairman.
Chairman Kent Caudle says council wants to improve fire services and make equal tax rates for every district. According to Caudle, each fire district has a certain amount of funds required in the budget and they all pay the same tax rate to get funding.
“Prior to this we had five different taxing rates, they went from $34 per $100,000 of value on your property tax for fire protection to almost $180,” Caudle said.
Council must approve three readings to include the special district.
“We’re just doing as the judge ordered us to do and prepare for that. See, its budget time we need to be prepared even if they appeal—if they do through with the appeal and it strains out for a longer period of time. We need to be able to have the proper budgeting tools in place,” Caudle said.
West Florence Fire District Chairman Dustin Fails says the special district was created to keep tax rates low residents in the area.
“They didn’t want [taxes] them to go up to be a part of the unified district. So, the citizens complained and state legislatures created a special purpose tax district. So, since they want us to do this. It’s our goal to continue battling and give them what the taxpayers want,” Dustin Fails, West Florence Fire District Chairman said.
Fails says the special district is moving forward to appeal the previous court ruling.
“The judge granted a stay, which means that the district can continue to operate until the Supreme Court hears the case which should be later this year,” Dustin Fails, West Florence Fire District Chairman said.
Fails says the district is working with the county during the transition. He also says no one attended the public hearing because the district has more than 30 volunteer fire firefighters at four different stations, all of which have full time jobs.
“We enjoy what we do and we just want to see what’s best for this department and our taxpayers,” Fails said.
Caudle says if the West Florence Fire District joins the Florence County Unified Fire District, they will keep their equipment unless it belongs to the county.
Florence County will review the second reading of the inclusion ordinance on the April 20.