Berkeley County Council considering raising some fire taxes - WCBD-TV: News, Weather, and Sports for Charleston, SC

Berkeley County Council considering raising some fire taxes

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Berkeley County Council will soon be taking up the issue of fire departments within the county. That could mean some property owners will be paying more in taxes.

Berkeley County Councilman Ken Gunn says between the 26 rural fire departments in the county, they have an annual budget of $3.9 million per year, and a debt of about ten million dollars, "In discussions that I've had with various people, we feel that it's time to look at what the debt issue is."

Gunn says the only way to solve that problem is to find additional money. He says some suggested an across the board $40 increase in taxes, but he does not want to see that.

Currently, a property with a house is taxed anywhere from $25-$100 per year for fire taxes. If the property is not developed, property owners only pay between $2 and $25 a year. Gunn says that means the owner of a 500 acre piece of land only pays about $25 a year in fire taxes, "we felt that that was not appropriate, in that they were taxing houses at $70."

Gunn is now proposing an increase in the fire tax paid by property owners of vacant land, to bring them in line with what homeowners pay. That increase would pay for a study to determine how to make sure Berkeley County fire protection is where it needs to be, including whether or not a county-wide fire service might be a better option.

Firefighters like Chief Timothy Stephenson of the Whitesville Volunteer Fire Department agree that something needs to be done, "Mr. Gunn is correct. There are shortfalls that come along with running any fire department."

Stephenson says the fire fee in Berkeley County has not been increased in eight years, since 2005. He says that while the departments are doing a good job with fire service, they need more money, not less, "one of the problems that fire departments throughout Berkeley County are currently having, is the ability to provide the safety aspects that come with firefighting, which puts our firefighters at risk."

Berkeley County Council could hold a first vote on Gunn's proposal as soon as their May meeting.

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