Surfside Council moves to divide Public Safety Department

Surfside Beach, SC - By Jennifer Grove - bio | email

SURFSIDE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Surfside Beach Town Council is considering the official division of the town's Public Safety Department into separate police and fire departments.

A first reading on the ordinance that revises the current department structure will take place at a Town Council meeting Tuesday in Council Chambers at 6:30 p.m.

Mayor Pro Tem Sammy Truett says the town could decide to stay under the umbrella of Public Safety, but that it would be a costly decision.

"We could duel certify all of our officers, but we're talking a lot of money," he explained. "We're talking probably three-fourths of a million dollars we would have to add to our budget plus more police officers [and] more firefighters."

He says since the department was first created, government training mandates have increased making duel-certifications of officers impossible without adding more staff.

Also, since falling under the umbrella of "Public Safety" the Surfside Beach Fire Department has applied for more than $3.3 million in federal SAFER Grants. Since that time all grant applications have either been denied or dismissed.

Truett says it is the title of "Public Safety" that has kept them from getting any money.

"A lot of these grants will not give them to Public Safety because they want them to go strictly to fire," Truett explained.

Right now the fire department only employs five staff members: the fire chief, fire marshal and three firefighters. This means that often there is only one firefighter on duty who relies on the roughly 25 volunteers when calls come in to the station.

"The SAFER grant will pay for these [3 additional] guys for three years," Truett said. "Then after that the town would be responsible, but from a budgetary standpoint I don't see a problem in three years."

He says by adding more officers, Surfside Fire Department could potentially better its ISO rating which would decrease insurance rates for property owners.

To start cashing in on the federal grants, Truett says he has been fighting to drop the title of Public Safety and officially return to the two distinct departments for more than three years.

"Nobody's going to be taken from Fire," Truett said. "Nobody's going to be taken from Police. We don't have Public Safety officers."

Right now the Public Safety Director is acting as Police Chief and the Deputy Public Safety Director is acting as Fire Chief. The budgets of the two departments are separate as well so Truett argued all that is needed is a name change.

"Operationally nothing changes," he explained. "We continue day to day operations. The only thing that will change is we might have to re-stripe a few police cars."

Mayor Allen Deaton disagrees: "I don't believe that would be the due diligence I don't think we'd be doing the right thing for the town of Surfside Beach or as leaders, community leaders to just change a name."

While both say they believe the re-division of Public Safety is a wonderful opportunity, Deaton is not convinced the departments are ready to stand alone in their current states. He wants to take a deeper look into the departments' inner workings first. Deaton says he wants to go through item by item and examine organizational charts, even possibly hire an outside consultant to look into the efficiency of the departments. 

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