Gov. Haley signs West Florence bill amid controversy

Tax payers gather to hear law makers discuss Bill 5225 | Source: Ken Baker
Tax payers gather to hear law makers discuss Bill 5225 | Source: Ken Baker

FLORENCE COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Gov. Haley signed the bill into law that makes West Florence its own tax district, removes West Florence from its newly consolidated fire district and clearly defines where its fire department fights fires. The bill was signed Wednesday.

Florence County leaders are going to take legal action against state legislators over a bill passed on Thursday, and it's over your tax money.

The fight is over the West Florence Fire District and its tax dollars.

"It puts us wholly in a special purpose tax district because it goes into two counties," said State Representative Phillip Lowe who represents a portion of Florence and Darlington Counties.

Representative Phillip Lowe is the man behind a bill, which makes the West Florence Fire District its own tax district.

The law officially said West Florence is responsible for covering parts of Darlington County along I-95, but it also does several other things that are stirring the pot.

"It would prevent us from being consolidated, it would keep us independent as we have been for the past 40 years, and it would make it so that we take care of our own tax situation," said Lowe.

House bill 5225 removes West Florence from Florence County's newly created fire district –and changes under that plan –including property tax changes.

"County Council is going to fight this all the way to try and protect you and give you qualified fire service," said Florence County Council Chairman James Schofield.

Florence County Council Chairman James Schofield says Representative Lowe's bill is illegal for several reasons.

"This is about home rule, and whether or not you can cram another political district on top of one that's already providing services and for fire in this county. There is a supreme court decision that says you can't do that," said Schofield.

The biggest fall out and the reason the new bill came about is because of the proposed higher property taxes the people living in West Florence would have to pay under Florence County's Fire Consolidation.

"I think the unfairness of the wealth distribution scheme that this turned out to be where Timmonsville a lot of very poor residents are having to foot a bill along with West Florence having to foot the entire bill for the rest of the district," said Lowe.

Florence County's new fire district plan proposes the people in West Florence who own a $100,000 property would have to pay an additional 14.4 mills.

That millage rate is higher than any other property owners in Florence County, because right now people in West Florence pay the least in property taxes.

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