Florence County votes to consolidate fire districts into one

FLORENCE COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - The Florence County Council voted Thursday to consolidate the county's many separate fire districts into a unified fire district.

The ordinance passed Thursday morning, will dissolve the Sardis-Timmonsville Rural Fire Protection District, the Johnsonville Rural Fire District, the Howe Springs Fire District, the Hannah Salam Friendfield Fire District, the West Florence Rural Fire District, and the Windy Hill/Olanta Rural Fire District.

In their place, the Florence County Fire Protection District will be formed. Uunder the consolidation, each fire district will keep its own identity.

The consolidation means those fire districts will operate out of one budget, with a council who will uphold checks and balances.

Council members say a unified district will attract more volunteer firefighters, make it possible to buy better fire equipment and lower ISO ratings of property owners across the county.

This consolidation is believed to be the answer to a lack in funding, volunteerism and fire hazards throughout the county.

Florence County Council Chairman James Schofield says even though the county's seven fire departments are now one district –nothing as far as the day-to-day operations will change.

"Those rural fire departments are still in charge. They elect their chiefs and they fight fires in their respective districts," said Florence County Council Chairman James Schofield.

The only thing that will change, and is causing a stir with some council and community members is the way the newly created fire district will be funded.

In the budget, which still needs a final reading and begins July 11st, nearly $5 million dollars is being allotted for the Florence County Fire Protection District.

"Instead of checks being written to them from the treasure, the checks will come from Florence County to pay the bills with," said Schofield.

"This four-point-something million dollars, that is a tax raise somewhere of over a million dollars, somebody's got to pay it, so not only is West Florence not paying equalization -- they're basically paying for the tax raises too," said William Dorriety Jr., Florence County Councilman.

CouncilmanWilliam Dorriety Jr. represents the West Florence Community.

He was one of two council members who voted against the fire consolidation.

"I'm doing what my people ask me to do, what I'm elected to do. The problem with a situation like this is it pits district against district," said Dorriety

Dorriety said people in the West Florence Fire district are concerned that under the current Florence County Fire Protection District Budget, his people will be providing the most revenue.

That proposed fire budget requires everyone living in rural Florence County to pay an equal 20.5 mills on a one hundred thousand dollar property, which comes out to $82 per year.

Under the new plan, property owners in West Florence will have to pay a 14.4 millage increase to get to the 20.5 mills.

Right now, they pay eight mills per $100,000 property.

The approved budget is the final step in giving Florence County's Fire Protection District legs.

That budget is expected to be passed before July 1st.

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