Dorchester Co. considering shutting down Ashley River Fire Department

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Dorchester County Council is considering taking steps to have the North Charleston Fire Department take over the area that is currently served by the Ashley River Fire Department, and shut the department down.

The Ashley River Special Tax District was formed in 1979 to create the fire department because there was no fire protection near the area. The department’s single fire station is located on Dorchester Road near Lincoln Patriot Boulevard.

But now county officials say that is no longer the case because of annexations, and now North Charleston surrounds the ARFD service area.

“It is completely encircled by the City of North Charleston so the City of North Charleston is in now in a perfect position to provide fire service in this area,” said Councilman Bill Hearn.

The proposed move is upsetting residents and ARFD staff. Chief Scott Inabinet told News 2 that the department was never approached by the county before the proposed move showed up on the county council agenda at the end of last week.

“There was no formal communication, there was no contact, they never asked us, they never sat down with us and said here’s why we’re doing this,” said Chief Inabinet.

Council was going to vote on Tuesday night in St George to authorize county staff to start the process to abolish the district but then tabled the vote until the next meeting in Summerville so residents of the district can have a chance to raise their concerns during a meeting that is closer to their homes.

Inabinet said that his 29 paid personnel are concerned about losing their jobs and said that residents wonder if the same level of service will maintained under a different department.

“You have to wonder because they’d be serving residents that actually aren’t in the city proper, is that same level of service going to be there?” said the chief. “I’m not saying they’re not going to do that, I’m just saying that’s a concern among some of the residents that have actually called and spoken with us about it.”

The county listed out benefits of dissolving the department and tax district in a press release issued on Wednesday afternoon:

“The dissolution of the ARSTD benefits the residents of the District and the County because:

Residents in the current ARSTD will receive the benefit of a full-time fully staffed station of one engine company and a battalion chief (5 personnel) from the NCFD.
The area would also be served by three additional full-time fully staffed NCFD Stations within five miles of the area for an additional increase of approximately 15 on-duty personnel available as additional resources.
An increased presence by Dorchester County EMS with space being made available to house an additional medic unit on site. This means the County will NOT have to build another EMS station to provide service to the growing District.
Upon dissolution of the department, all property of the ARFD will become County property.                                                                        
Lessens the burden on the Dorchester County Dispatch Center by approximately 900 calls, annually.
By abolishing the ARSTD and contracting with NCFD, businesses and residents will have more resources and personnel available for emergency response.
After the consolidation, there will be three paid Fire Departments in Dorchester County, which will allow for easier cooperation in training and service provision which makes our citizens safer. 
Effects for residents in the ARSTD

Enhanced level of service from the NCFD
There will be NO tax increase to the residents of the ARSTD
There will be no change in ISO rating for the residents
Enhanced EMS presence in the district”

“We are setting up an agreement that will enable the City of North Charleston to do something that they already do. The only difference is they will be housed in the fire station presently occupied by the Ashley River Special Tax District,” said Councilman Hearn.

Inabinet said that his belief, at this point after talking to other local fire chiefs, is that Dorchester County’s intent is to use the majority of the fire trucks located at the Ashley River Fire Department now at Dorchester County Fire-Rescue locations.

“I think that is probably one of the underlying reasons that Dorchester County is doing this. Dorchester County Fire[-Rescue] needs additional apparatus,” he said. “They were paid for by residents and property owners in the special tax district, not Dorchester County proper.”

The chief said the county should consider conducting a referendum for residents and property owners to decide if they would like to change the way fire service is provided.

“Truly, if you believe in the way our democratic government works they should go back to the residents and property owners with a referendum,’ said Chief Inabinet.

Dorchester County Council is expected to vote on authorizing county staff to start to take steps toward abolishing the tax district that funds the department on March 4 at its next meeting at county council chambers in Summerville.

Three readings of an ordinance are required before the county can dissolve the department and tax district, which, if approved, would be effective on July 1.

More information about the proposed changes can be found on the Dorchester County website.

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