FLORENCE COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - The Florence County Council held a specially-called meeting on Tuesday morning to continue with a plan of action of merging the West Florence Fire District into a unified fire district in the county.
Florence County Council Chairman Kent Caudle said the second reading of the ordinance was passed unanimously.
"We are just following the judge's order to have a plan in place if and when we will consolidate the fire district," said Caudle.
The council was ordered by the court to have a plan in place by May 1, according to Caudle. The governing body believes the county should have equal taxpayers across the board with one unified fire district, EMS and sheriff's office.
"Taxpayers out here did not like the idea of their taxes going up as much as they were going to go up," said Dustin Fails, chairman of the West Florence Fire Board.
In 2014, the nearly 25,000 people who live in the West Florence Fire District elected the fire board to break off and create its own special purpose tax district. Over the past six months, West Florence Fire was able to pay for all of the new $150,000 extrication tools, and water rescue and fire nozzles after 20 years of having outdated gear, Fails said.
"We've gotten through all of that, and the judge has issued us an order of stay, which allows the district to continue operating as it is today and to allow us to appeal the case," he said. "So we are in the process of appealing it. We still have not gone over our budgeted number we have set aside for this case. We are still under budget."
West Florence Fire said its goal is to provide the taxpayers with the best service and price.
Florence County Council, however, believes breaking off is unconstitutional. For the past three years, West Florence Fire has been operating business as usual. Back in January, the fire district filed a court appeal.
"We have been in talks with the county and there has been open line of communication between our lawyers and them with what to do down the road," Fails said. "So we've already been having that discussion if something does happen and we fall back into the county, what the department needs today and how that transition would happen if it were to happen."
The West Florence Fire Board said its waiting for the Supreme Court to hear the case, hopefully by the end of 2017. Caudle said the county council will go through a third reading at the next council meeting on April 20.