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Taxing issue looms

A Burning Question

The Lake Wylie Pilot this week begins its four-part series investigating the proposed fire tax district set for vote May 2. Next week: Bethel Volunteer Fire Department explains why the tax is needed.

LAKE WYLIE -- With a vote carrying major implications both for tax bills and fire protection less than a month away, the trickiest issue may be one playing out before the first vote is cast May 2. The issue -- who gets to vote?

"This is new to me, too," said County Councilman Tom Smith, a supporter of the proposed Bethel Fire Tax District.

Wanda Hemphill, director of the York County Registration and Elections Office, admits the fire tax vote is not as simple as other decisions. Some particulars are set, such as the same hours -- 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. -- and precinct locations registered voters have in general elections, she said.

The tax vote -- which would raise property taxes on homes and businesses within the Bethel Fire District -- only impacts residents within the Bethel district.

"Some are entirely within the proposed tax district, and then there are partials," Hemphill said of the eight precincts.

Anyone living within the Bethel No. 1, Bethel No. 2 or Lakeshore precincts -- who vote at Bethel Fire Department, River Hills Community Church or Lake Wylie Christian Assembly -- lives within the proposed tax district.

Some residents living within Allison Creek (Allison Creek Presbyterian Church), Bethel School (Bethel Elementary School), Bowling Green (Bowling Green Presbyterian Church), Clover No. 1 (Clover School District Office) or New Home (New Home Church) also live within the district.

In several areas, the side of the street where a home sits determines which fire district serves it, said Bethel's Chief Don Love. In fact, even Hemphill's office may have to look home-by-home in determining eligible voters.

"We don't actually track the fire district lines like we would for other elections, so we'll have to go one at a time," Hemphill said. "We actually have to go to the map and take a look at it ourselves."

It's possible, Love said, that even people on the scene at local fires might not know what district the burn is in, since multiple fire departments receive calls for major incidents.

"That might be a little confusing to them," Love said. "Any time there's a structure fire we dispatch (at least) two departments."

The latest figure in November about how many eligible voters can participate in the May 2 vote is 12,149.

The majority will decide the contest.

"It's 50 percent plus one," Hemphill said of the votes needed.

While Love believes most people know which fire district serves them, a quick reference map will be available at the fire station for anyone in the five partial precincts. Call 803-831-7988 for information.