Controversy surrounds West Florence Fire District

FLORENCE, SC (WMBF) - Controversy in Florence County is heating up after Governor Nikki Haley signed a bill to make West Florence its own fire district.

It basically means the money people in West Florence pay for fire protection can only be used in the new West Florence Fire district, but there are several unanswered questions about funding for the district.

"Who was going to fund the district between now and whenever they elected their people in mid-September?" asked James Schofield, Chairman of Florence County Council.

West Florence now has its own special purpose tax district, which means the county is no longer financially responsible for keeping the department up and running.

"This county is committed to see that the people in West Florence are protected with fire service, and that's going to happen, regardless of what's going on," assured Schofield.

House Bill 5225, which was signed into law by Gov. Haley, removes West Florence out of Florence County's Fire District, and prohibits fire millage in that district from going anywhere but the West Florence Fire District.

"I'd also say, who has the legal liability between now and then? The West Florence Fire Department might be assuming all the legal liability if a firemen gets hurt," said Schofield.

Questions surrounding finances, legal and liability are being raised because the West Florence Fire District does not have a board to run it or a set millage for funding purposes.

"The question would be: are we going under the old millage? but I will assure the residents that we have everything under control," said State Representative Phillip Lowe, who represents Florence and Darlington Counties in District 63.

According to the bill, in September, an election will be held to select five people from the West Florence area to govern the new district.

"People should begin considering, if they live in the districts, if they would like to be one of the five commissioners," said Lowe.

The group would be responsible for deciding what the fire millage for the West Florence area.

While West Florence now prepares for that election, the county spent Thursday looking over legal options to put an end to House Bill 5225 altogether.

"The constitution that the people have set and the people rule on, and voted on for home rule many years ago is the final thing and that is interpreted by the court system."

County Councilman James Schofield says the county's lawyers and advisors have been going over House Bill 5225 and say it has several elements to it; county council believes will not stand up in court.

On June 12, Florence County Council is expected it will make decision on whether or not to take this matter to the state supreme court.

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