Facing a tight timeline on passing their biggest budget, Tega Cay City Council needs an answer on how to divvy fire funding.
Council is getting together at 8 a.m. Saturday at Council chambers to iron out details. That public discussion comes after holding up an $8.93 million general fund budget vote Monday night. A general fund still needs two approval votes by Sept. 30 to pay for services in the 2017-18 fiscal year.
“There are a lot of questions here that seem to have come up, that we need answers on,” Mayor George Sheppard said at the Monday meeting.
In all, $14.48 million in city funding was tabled because of the fire issue. Other city budgets include utilities, stormwater, hospitality tax, beach and swim center operations, and events.
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The city’s general fund includes police, fire, public works, recreation and other costs. The largest amounts typically go to the same departments each year. This year they combine for about 45 percent of the general fund.
“As is the case with most cities, your public safety,” said Charlie Funderburk, city manager.
Council had a fire service figure of $1.36 million on the table for approval, but Les Woods with the Tega Cay Volunteer Fire Department asked members to reconsider. Woods said his group requested $101,900 in April, but didn’t hear anything from the city until Aug. 1.
“There was no indication the volunteers even have a budget,” Woods told Council.
The eventual budget allocated $16,005 of the $1.36 million fire total for volunteers. Woods said their station needs a fire sprinkler system upgrade, required by fire code, that will cost more than twice that allotment.
Volunteers also need money for training and education, he said. Since he joined 18 years ago there always has been money for recruitment and retention, which isn’t part of the most recent budget.
“To see that go away is very disheartening,” Woods said.
Chief Scott Szymanski, who works with paid and volunteer firefighters, said he understands concern about funding changes but also looks at a broader picture. The new budget would fund three new paid firefighters, one for each shift. Paid staff factors into a department’s ISO rating, the industry standard impacting insurance rates paid by property owners, the way volunteers don’t.
“It’s not about volunteers versus paid or paid versus (volunteers),” Szymanski said. “It’s about what’s right for the city.”
He also questioned whether fire service gets the bang for its buck on recruitment and retention costs. Szymanski said he understood a contract between the city and volunteers meant he would be working with volunteers to create their budget. Instead, he said, he was handed their budget request.
Councilman David O’Neal did a double take Monday at the small percentage of overall fire funding designated for the volunteer department. Other members had questions and concerns they said need further discussion.
“There are obviously a lot of issues on both sides, and we need to sit down with both sides and talk through the numbers, and talk through what we missed and figure out what the right answer is,” said Councilwoman Dottie Hersey.
The three new firefighters would be the only new hires in the $8.92 million general fund presented. It includes a 2 percent cost of living increase for city employees, but not merit increases. The millage rate — 89 mills — wouldn’t change.
Along with the general fund, the city is looking at budgets of $4.57 million for utilities, $490,340 for stormwater costs, $240,000 in hospitality tax, $185,607 for the beach and swim center and $75,720 for city events.