By the narrowest of margins, rural firefighters won the right to start the acquisition process of $3.5 million in replacement equipment to be used by the Laurens County Fire Service.
County Council approved the once-every-10-years expenditure process Tuesday night, 4-3. It will not necessitate a tax increase; people in the unincorporated areas of Laurens County already pay 20 mils a year for fire service, and the lease-purchase payments on the $3.5 million will be made from that existing pot of money. Some paid firefighters, smaller pieces of equipment and a reserve fund also are funded by this tax appropriation (not paid by residents of Clinton, Laurens or Fountain Inn that have their own fire departments).
The money will buy 10 pumper tankers (one-man operations) and two rescue trucks, Fire Service Director Greg Lindley told the council. Approval came with a stipulation: Lindley will not buy anything but will ask for RFPs from fire apparatus vendors (an RFP is request for proposal).
Council Chairman Dr. David Pitts, and members Jeffrey Carroll and Stewart Jones, voted “no.”
Council Vice-Chairman Joe Wood and members Garrett McDaniel, Diane Anderson and Kemp Younts voted “yes.”
Carroll said asking for RFPs is the same as saying equipment will be purchased; he wanted Lindley to ask for estimates. Pitts said the Fire Service would be spending $7 million over the last 20 years for equipment, not all of which benefits all citizens of Laurens County.
“There are needs everywhere,” he said.
Jones suggested that some of the expense could be covered by grants.
Lindley said, “We have received $3.8 million in federal grants, assistance to firefighter grants - 12 of our 14 rescue trucks have been replaced (through grant funds).”
Lindley said he wasn’t asking for any increase in spending or taxes. “This is not increasing anything - other than what we (already) pay in taxes. If we wait until October or November, it could be $4.2 million instead of $3.5 million. We have a countywide ISO rating of 5. I’m looking to a 4 or a 3 ISO, but I can’t do it with some of the equipment we have now.”
The Fire Tax of 20 mils was set in 1992. Each 10 years the Fire Service replaces 10-12 “front line” trucks with a portion of the money that tax generates. The county also is finishing a fire station-building project, financed by a bond, and last year opened a new fire station on Thompson Road, enabling the county to cancel a fire service contract with the Town of Fountain Inn. It still has a contract with Clinton to provide service just outside the city limits.
Lindley was authorized by the council’s motion to “get the pricing, and not spend the money moving forward - start the process,” Anderson said. Lindley said the Fire Service has 108 fire apparatuses, replacing 12 in 2010 and now proposing to replace 12 more by 2021. That way, most of the trucks would be less than 30 years old. The unincorporated areas of Laurens County are classified as a Special Purpose Tax District for the purpose of fire protection.