Some volunteer firefighters asking county leaders to delay hirin - | WBTV Charlotte

Some volunteer firefighters asking county leaders to delay hiring full-time fire chief in Lake Wylie

(Michael Clark | WBTV) (Michael Clark | WBTV)
YORK COUNTY, SC (WBTV) -

Monday night, some volunteer firefighters and residents will ask the York County Council to hold off on the planned hiring of a paid fire chief for the Bethel Fire Department in Lake Wylie.

Some believe the move is too soon and an unnecessary expense to tax payers.

Earlier this year, the fire tax board in charge of handling finances for the special fire district in Lake Wylie voted unanimously to approve the hiring of a new full time chief. The money was put into the budget that was approved by the York County Council.

Monday, some volunteers and others plan to ask York County Council Members to hold off on hiring a full time chief until a hired consultant studies the needs of county fire departments.

The Lake Wylie area is seeing its fair share of growth, like other parts of York County. New businesses, homes, and apartments are being built all over.

Margaret Blackwell is on the board that plans to hire the new chief. The board is made up of five citizens who live in the district. She said the board feels it’s the right time for the move.

“There comes a time when you need to have a person there 24/7, for consistency,” Blackwell said.

Blackwell has been met with some opposition by some of the volunteer fire fighters on the department. Bethel’s fire department has several dozen volunteers.

There are also three paid full time positions, and six paid part-time positions.

Perry Johnston, a long time volunteer firefighter feels the board is overstepping and questions the need for a full time chief.

It’s a position that’s expected to cost more than $100,000 for salary, vehicle, and benefits.

“I’m also obviously a taxpayer of this district, why would I want additional tax money spent to allegedly fix something that isn’t broken?” Johnston asked.

The district recently improved its insurance rating to an ISO 4.

Allison Love will soon represent the area on the county council, and Monday she planned to ask the current council to put the brakes on hiring a new chief.

“We don’t have a shortage of volunteers, so I just feel very strongly that the timing is not right and it’s going to cost taxpayer dollars,” Love said.

Blackwell told WBTV the expenses to taxpayers should be insignificant. Currently, she said homeowners pay about 40 cents on a $100,000 home. She admits they might have to raise the millage, but she said for example, even if the millage doubled, homeowners would only be adding about 40 cents to their annual bill.

She added that the board has no plans to double the millage.

Blackwell had nothing negative to say about current volunteer fire fighters performance, but thinks a full-time position would suit the department with the expected growth coming in.

“We have $3 million worth of equipment, and $3 million worth of buildings that we insure, and we need somebody to look after that on a full time basis,” Blackwell said.

Some firefighters say they’d rather see money spent on a couple of paid firefighters to man posts at night, rather than spending the money on one full time chief.

Johnston said some volunteer firefighters have said they might leave the department if a full time chief is hired.

“There has been a number of volunteers that has spoken out freely that said if we can’t answer to our own elected chief than we probably need to go somewhere else and serve other communities,” Johnston said.

According to Blackwell, the tax board has already received many applications from qualified candidates. The board plans to start interviews with applicants soon.

Unless there are any unforeseen delays, she said the new chief could be announced as early as November.

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