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LF-R requests funding for new fire marshal

Posted: May 29, 2014 5:39 p.m.
Updated: May 30, 2014 5:00 a.m.

With Lugoff being one of the fastest growing areas of Kershaw County, Lugoff Fire-Rescue (LF-R) wants to be sure they keep up with that growth in its firefighting and prevention services. LF-R Chief Dennis Ray presented information to Kershaw County Council at its meeting Tuesday, asking for approval of the LF-R’s Fiscal Year 2015 budget. The proposal includes a 2-mil tax increase to fund the hiring of one additional firefighter who would also serve as the Lugoff Fire District’s (LFD) fire marshal. The current millage rate for the district is 29.4.

The LFD is a special purpose taxing district governed by its own board, but must receive final approval for its budget from county council. Ray said the LFD board recently finalized its approval of the budget with three separate votes and a public hearing. He said the 2-mil increase would mean the owner of a $200,000 home would see a $16 rise in yearly taxes, but the benefits of having low insurance rates due to improved fire protection could be worth hundreds of dollars to each property owner. The Insurance Services Office (ISO) assigns ratings to communities based on the quality and availability of firefighting personnel and equipment. The lower the ISO rating, the less community members have to pay for homeowners and business insurance. Lugoff’s current ISO rating is 5, Ray said.

“If we drop from a 5 to a 6 because we fail to invest in our fire protection, I can show you a 15 times increase over that $16 that a homeowner’s going to have on a $200,000 home,” he said. “I challenge everybody to ask their insurance companies what it would cost for the residents if you go from your current ISO up just one notch. It’s significant.”

Councilman Jimmy Jones, who represents District 4 which includes at least portions of the LFD, said he has researched insurance rates based and different ISO ratings.

“I checked my … homeowners (insurance) and I do believe that mine could go up as much as $500 a year. That’s a lot of money. Hiring this position will secure the fact of our rate,” he said.

Ray said the department simply needs more staff. He said his goal is to drop Lugoff’s ISO to 4, but couldn’t guarantee it. He did say, however, it could never happen without hiring the new position.     

“Our budget is $1.04 million. Out of that, $857,000 of that money is earmarked for personnel. That’s how expensive career firefighters are,” Ray said. “That leaves me $188,000 to pay the rest of the bills.”

Ray said as more homes and businesses are built in Lugoff the tax base grows, but takes approximately two years for new funds to be collected and available for use. He said the number of schools, businesses, industry sites, subdivisions, the Wateree River and close proximity to I-20 add to LF-R’s responsibilities. He said the department responds to more vehicle crashes than any other type of call and the fire-rescue service is constantly evolving.

“It used to be we’d go put the wet stuff on the red stuff, now it’s all kinds of stuff,” he said. “We’re the second-fastest growing community in Kershaw County. We have tremendous potential for growth and we know it’s coming. With development, obviously comes more responsibility.”

Council wanted to go ahead and vote on Ray’s proposal, but County Attorney Ken DuBose said members must wait for another meeting since voting on the request was not on Tuesday’s published agenda. Council subsequently called a special meeting for the vote to be held at 9 a.m. this coming Tuesday.

Council did unanimously approve a proclamation honoring Nick Lampshire for his various community services, including serving on the Camden City Council and on the board of Central Carolina Technical College (CCTC).

“He was instrumental in gathering community support for the concept of expanding our Kershaw County campus to meet the higher education needs of this region of the state,” Council Chairman Gene Wise read from the proclamation. “He is a vocal supporter of the value of the technical college system, in improving economic development in Kershaw County and improving the lives of the students. He has been a tremendous asset to the college in the last five years.”

Council also unanimously approved a proclamation making Kershaw County a “Purple Heart County” in honor of those wounded in combat. Ronnie Stroud of the Military Order of the Purple Hearts said Gov. Nikki Haley has a goal of making every county a Purple Heart County, but that each county council must vote to do so.

“It’s not going to cost anything. We’re not asking anybody to put up any signs,” Stroud said.

Council passed third and final reading of an ordinance approving the county entering into an installment purchase transaction for up to $8.5 million to fund improvements at the county detention center, recreation facilities, CCTC and “other authorized purposes.”

Council approved second reading of two other ordinances. The first allows the county to establish fees to companies that pump out septic tanks to dispose of the waste at the county wastewater treatment facility. The other will ultimately set the county’s budget for the fiscal starting July 1. Third and final reading for the budget ordinance will be on council’s June 17 agenda, pushed back one week due to the June 10 primary election.

Finally, council approved first reading of an ordinance regarding the distribution of money collected in “fee-in-lieu-of-taxes” agreements. County Administrator Vic Carpenter said similar ordinances come up annually as part of the budget process.

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