Editor's note: This is part II of an occasional series examining the impact of growth on local infrastructure.
A growing population means more emergencies and a greater need for more protection from EMS, firefighters and law enforcement.
Lanny Bernard, director of EMS for Lancaster County, remembers when the EMS station in Indian Land first opened in 1994. Back then, he said, the station received about 15 calls per month. Now, the call volume there tops 100 a month.
The EMS station operates with two full-time paramedics on staff around the clock. In October, when the new station at Edenmoor is expected to open, that number will jump to three.
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A volunteer rescue squad is also on call to assist the EMS department.
Eventually, according to Bernard and County Administrator Steve Willis, they hope to move the current EMS station, located near the Indian Land Recreation Center, further north to accommodate growth in the Panhandle's northern end. The station at Edenmoor can adequately serve the southern end, they said.
"We just have to see how development shakes out up there and where we can get some land," Willis said.
Response times for getting a paramedic on the scene of an emergency have stayed consistently under the department's mandated eight-minute standard, Bernard said, showing him that the EMS service in the area is adequate.
"I think the council understands the needs and are helping add staff as we grow," Bernard said.
Home of their own
The Tega Cay Rescue Squad has been sharing space with the Tega Cay Volunteer Fire Department on Tega Cay Drive for years, and the city has supported the squad with annual donations from its general fund. As the city expands into the Gardendale area though, a larger EMS presence will be needed. City officials are already talking with Piedmont Medical Center to find a place to house another ambulance crew in the newer section of the city, according to City Manager Grant Duffield.
"Our focus area in all growth has always been public safety," Duffield said. "Our greatest focus now is EMS service in the city in the future. We're trying to identify the best place to put the Piedmont EMS."
Like the Tega Cay Rescue Squad, the Fort Mill Rescue Squad operates independently of other government entities, although it is supported in part by annual $6,000 donations from Fort Mill's general fund, according to Fort Mill Town Manager David Hudspeth.
In addition to its headquarters on North White Street, the squad also stations a crew at the Flint Hill Volunteer Fire Department on Pleasant Road during the day. Flint Hill is in the middle of upgrading its station there to include sleeping quarters for firefighters and an ambulance crew. When it's complete, the squad will be able to house a crew there 24 hours a day, according to Flint Hill Chief David Jennings.
The fire departments are also continuing to keep up with growth in the township.
Last month, the Pleasant Valley Fire Department received a new ladder truck that will allow it to reach the roofs of tall buildings and residences, something the department didn't have to worry about 10 years ago, when Indian Land was just rural farmland.
Pleasant Valley, Indian Land and the Van Wyck/Charlotte Road fire departments all received a new engine last month.
As more homes are built in the northern end of the Panhandle, additional fire protection is needed to maintain the fire department's insurance rating. Pleasant Valley is in the process of purchasing land for a substation in the Harrisburg Road area, which will help it serve the northern end of the Panhandle and maintain a favorable insurance rating.
Good insurance ratings means savings for homeowners through lower premiums.
In addition to the expansion at Flint Hill's second station, the department will spend up to $50,000 this year to design a third substation in the Regent Park area. Its main station is located on Hwy. 21 near the Fort Mill Northern Bypass. Construction could begin next year, as long as the site being offered is suitable for a station, Jennings said. The new station will likely cost approximately $600,000.
The largely volunteer department will also add three full-time paid firefighters on Sept. 1, Jennings said. Up until now, department volunteers have been rotating paid shifts during the day to keep the stations staffed while most other firefighters are at work.
"Where we're trying to get in five years is to have a paid chief and at least one engine crew of four full-time firefighters," Jennings said. "The absolute biggest challenge is getting paid personnel because we can't wait for a firefighter to drive five minutes to the station to get the truck anymore."
Initially, Flint Hill will relocate an engine and some equipment to the new Regent Park station, but in the coming years the department will be adding more trucks to the substation, Jennings said.
The Tega Cay and Fort Mill Fire Departments are also looking to expand.
Tega Cay now has a commercial sector in the Stonecrest development with large commercial buildings, and the department has several three-story town homes to protect as well. The city recently signed an agreement to lease a 75-foot ladder truck to the department to fight fires in those types of structures. But the current station on Tega Cay Drive next to Runde Field is too far away from Stonecrest, so Duffield said a substation in the vicinity if Stonecrest is a priority.
Paying for added coverage
Last month, Fort Mill more than doubled in size with the annexation of approximately 5,000 acres owned by Clear Springs Development, Leroy Springs and Co., Kanawha Sustainable Development Group and the Culture and Heritage Commission. Development agreements covering those annexations include donations on 1-acre sites from Clear Springs and Kanawha for police or fire substations.
Those sites have yet to be determined, Hudspeth said. The Kanawha property is located near the intersection of I-77 and Sutton Road, but the Clear Springs properties are spread out across the township, including a large tract south of Doby's Bridge Road. Residents and town officials have said for years the Doby's Bridge Road corridor is an ideal location for a new fire station.
The annexations pose challenges not only for the Fort Mill Fire Department to serve more people, but also for the Flint Hill and Riverview fire departments. Each annexation takes a bite out of the tax districts that fund Flint Hill and Riverview, Jennings said.
Currently, residents and businesses in the Flint Hill Fire District are taxed to fund the departments.
"Every time they take in business property it takes away from our tax base," Jennings said.
That leaves Flint Hill less able to fund expenses related to operations and expansion, and presents Fort Mill with more area to cover, which translates to higher costs for the town. But Jennings is working on a solution.
He plans to ask Fort Mill to contract with Flint Hill to provide fire protection to town residents living in the northeast part of the town, which, until the annexation, was part of the Flint Hill District. In return, he will ask the town to pay the department for the service with a tax levy charged to those property owners.
"It would cut down on their need to expand and it would give our residents the protection of paid personnel," he said.
Both departments have received an ISO rating of 4 so insurance premiums shouldn't be affected. Both departments also have platform ladder trucks to combat fires in large commercial structures or in housing developments where homes are close enough for flames to jump between buildings on windy days.
local law enforcement is also trying to stay ahead of the growth curve.
Police protection has long been a concern of Indian Land residents, who have worried that inadequate staffing could lead to a rise in crime and higher response times. In the last five years, the Lancaster County Sheriff's Department has added two permanent deputies to the Indian Land substation and has additional staff in Lancaster available as needed in case of emergencies.
The county council is considering two budget proposals that would increase staffing at the sheriff's department. While services from EMS, area fire departments and the sheriff's office are currently adequate, Willis worries about the future. He cites Act 388, the property tax reform bill which puts limits on how much the county can grow its annual budget, as keeping the county from providing enhanced services to Indian Land's residents.
"Given the financial constraints we're working under, it's an ongoing struggle to maintain the level of services we have now," Willis said. "As far as increasing those services, until the state legislature changes the law, I don't think that will happen."
When the Stonecrest Wal-Mart opened the Tega Cay Police Department got a small substation, but Duffield said the department still needs more space in the vicinity of Dam and Gardendale roads.
The department currently has 19 officers, two more will be hired midyear, Duffield said. Additionally the city will purchase two more cruisers for the department this year. It also recently added a drug sniffing dog to the force.
The dog, named Felon, came from the City of Chester, which recently disbanded it's canine unit. Tega Cay got him at no cost from the Chester County Animal Shelter.
"The drug dog is something we've wanted for quite some time," Duffield said. "We were just fortunate to get him when we did."
Fort Mill is also thinking about expanding its police force, according to Hudspeth. He is proposing to relocate the city court, which shares a building with the department and Town Hall at the moment.
The relocation will allow the department to take over all of the lower half of the Town Hall building, giving the growing police force more space to work, according to Hudspeth's budget proposal.
The department currently has 31 uniformed officers and some support staff. It will get two new officers and five more police vehicles under Hudspeth's proposed budget.
Two of the vehicles are new, the other three had been used by other town employees who will be switching to hybrid or smaller fuel efficient vehicles.