SC Fire Departments Cope with Budget Woes

Fire departments have been coping with financial difficulties for some time, and the proposed solutions vary from community to community. In South Carolina, for example, the answer for the Arcadia Fire District in Spartanburg County was to shut down. In a phone interview with Fire Engineering, Jeff Hadden, assistant chief of the Una Community Fire Department, which will take over Arcadia’s fire duties, said that the Arcadia Fire District has been closed since November 17, 2001. Una, a county and combination fire department, has 40 members.

“Budgets are problems for all aspects of the county, not just fire departments,” Hadden explained. He added that he didn’t think his department would be “dramatically affected.” Special purpose districts in the county have resorted to referendum, Hadden noted.

Among these districts was the North Spartanburg Fire Department, also a combination department. Chief Jerry Files said that in November the voters approved a referendum that proposed a six-mill fire tax, which equates to $24 on a house assessed at $100,000. It was the third time the proposal was brought before the voters; it was defeated twice. The September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon helped influence the vote this time around, Files said. “We were getting calls from residents who were telling us, ‘We’re behind you.'”

Despite the passage of the proposed fire tax, however, finances are still an issue. “The department will not see any of that money until October,” Files said. “It takes a year for the referendum to get on the books.” Moreover, Files explains that the state eliminated a personal property tax in a tax-relief move. The county used to receive $54,000 in revenues from the state based on receipts from that tax. “We already lost one mill of the six mills we asked for,” Files said.

The area is growing, and new houses and apartment complexes have increased the need for fire protection, according to Files. “We need a fourth station, but we don’t have the funds,” he explained.

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