LAKE WYLIE -- Don Love is not a politician, but for the next three weeks he may seem like one. Like candidates calling for change, the Bethel Fire chief has until Nov. 4 to spread his message throughout the volunteer fire department district.
Love, along with his 51-member department and York County Councilman Tom Smith, is working to gather 1,600 registered voters' signatures to put a special fire tax up for vote in York County's second largest district covering 62 square miles.
"We have to be able to protect all of it," Love said. "Our guys, it's getting tough on them."
The fire chief and several volunteer firefighters held a public meeting last week to talk about why the special tax is needed. Only eight residents showed up to hear the plan, and they all supported the new fire tax.
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"I'm offended that you have to have fundraisers to raise this money," said Gloria Hein, who lives at The Landing. "It's practically criminal."
Love said the tax is needed because community donation have been dropping as department costs are rising. He also said more fire protection provided by the tax could actually end up saving residents money on fire insurance.
Hein agreed homeowners should welcome a tax that costs much less than taxes in other parts of the country. Her husband, Walt, even talked to Love about explaining the plan to his neighbors and passing the petition.
He's concerned, though, that the new tax could dry up donations.
"I would think one of the consequences of the tax would be that donations would drop off," Hein said. "It's the mindset."
While Bethel volunteers now plan to go door-to-door explaining the special fire tax and to get the needed signatures, Love also plans to have firefighters at the polls Nov. 4 to talk to registered voters. Firefighters worry residents will see the word tax and oppose the plan without understanding how it would be used.
"That's exactly what I got today,"said William "Butch" Braswell, representing the Patrick Place neighborhood in Clover. "When I went around to [neighbors] they said, 'What tax?'" The tax plan is the department's final effort to meet the demands of a growing population.
"If somebody else has a better idea on how to raise funds, I'd like to hear it,"Smith said during the Oct. 7 meeting. "We're lucky to have volunteers as the backbone of our local emergency response. What would we do without them?"
Want to know more?The Bethel Volunteer Fire Department has three stations with 11 trucks protecting 300 businesses and about 20,000 residents. The department is a nonprofit group, with tax-deductible donations accepted. For more,call (803) 831-7988 or visit bethelvfd.com.