FLORENCE COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – The state Supreme Court affirmed a circuit court ruling that the West Florence Fire District conflicts with South Carolina's provisions "concerning special legislation and home rule," and is unconstitutional.
A portion of the court's ruling, filed Wednesday, stated "home rule mandates the County is the proper body to address the matter rather than the General Assembly."
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.
Prior to 2014, Florence County operated a number of special tax districts to fund fire protection services provided by not-for-profit fire departments, the Supreme Court's ruling stated.
Those services were funded by a millage rate, which was different for each district.
According to court documents, at one point West Florence residents were taxed at a rate of eight mills, while Johnsonville residents were taxed at 40 mills.
The county sought to reform the method for financing fire protection by consolidating the districts into one.
"However, while the proposal expected to curtail the high millage rates for many residents, the rate in West Florence would nearly triple," the ruling stated.
West Florence residents reached out to members of the General Assembly for help, who in turn created the West Florence Fire District.
With the Supreme Court's ruling, the fire district will now transition to county control.
The West Florence Fire District's board of commissioners released the following statement regarding the ruling: