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LFD budget takes shape

Posted: May 13, 2011 3:32 p.m.
Updated: May 16, 2011 5:00 a.m.

After a bit of number crunching, Lugoff Fire District (LFD) commissioners think they’ve found a way to save three firefighters’ jobs, pay for rising fuel costs and replace a fire truck.

Last summer, the Federal Emergency Mangement Agency (FEMA) granted the LFD funds to hire three firefighters -- but the money didn’t come without strings attached. The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant pays for the first two years of three firefighters’ employment, including salaries and benefits, but requires a third year of employment be paid in-full by the LFD.

LFD attorney Charles Baxley told the board of commissioners May 9 that while meeting the grant requirement to keep the firefighters a third year wouldn’t be a problem, it wasn’t sustainable for more years to come.

The 2011-12 fiscal year will be the second year of the SAFER employees’ three-year grant term.

“It will require us to dip into our reserve funds, which can’t be sustained long term,” Baxley said. “The original goal was to keep these employees permanently, but we don’t have the revenue for it to be sustainable. We’re not going to default on the grant, but we won’t be able to keep these employees without coming up with the extra funds.”

LFD Chief Dennis Ray told the board that, conservatively, he projects the LFD’s total revenue for the 2011-12 fiscal year to be a little more than $911,000. The SAFER grant will provide an additional $160,000, bringing the LFD’s budget to just more than $1 million.

The LFD needs to find an extra $160,000 in sustainable revenue to retain the three employees permanently.

In a post-meeting interview, Ray said other expenses were making it difficult to budget for the SAFER employees, but he plans to do whatever it takes to keep them.

“It will be hard, with fuel prices going up, a fire truck that needs to be replaced and firefighting equipment going up in price. The money has got to come from somewhere,” he said. “It was our goal to keep them permanently when we hired them, and that is still my goal.”

Ray said that, unfortunately, the 2011-12 budget does not include a 2 percent cost-of-living raise for employees and has no room for raises for three lieutenant promotions either.

“It’s not a perfect budget, but considering the circumstances, I think we’re in good shape,” Ray said.

Ray suggested the board seek a .4 mill increase from Kershaw County Council -- the maximum increase the LFD can ask for under Act 388.

“We’re the second-fastest growing area in Kershaw County next to Elgin,” Ray said. “We need to be able to serve the community.

“Folks may like to look at this as just a raise in taxes, but it’s an investment. When someone dials 911, they expect us to be able to help. It’s important for me to have the manpower and equipment necessary to do our jobs. We’ve done our part in getting grants and providing community service. Maybe some parts of government can do more for less, but in fire services, more for less gets people hurt or even killed.”

Ray said even though the value of a mill in Kershaw County went up from $33,900 to $34,565, it is still not enough to pay for the SAFER employees on a continuing basis.

The commissioners discussed the possibility of selling the Lachicotte Road substation in Lugoff to free up funds.

“The … intention (would be) of relocating the substation in the industrial park in Lugoff,” Ray said. “It would make good financial sense.”

 In the meantime, Ray said, if the LFD sells the Lachicotte Road substation, it wouldn’t have to pay the utilities for an extra substation and could pay down bonds on the current fire department until plans are made to replace it.

Other cost-saving measures being taken into consideration are the reduction of dental and vision insurance for all LFD employees.

“Beginning January 2012, all employees will have to pay their own dental and vision insurance,” Ray said. “We still offer health care coverage but, unfortunately, can’t offer dental and vision.”

The LFD will hold a public hearing on the 2011-12 budget at 7:30 p.m. May 23 at the Lugoff Fire Department.

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