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Voters OK fire tax

LAKE WYLIE--Less than 5 percent of the registered voters within the Bethel fire district turned out Saturday, but the ones who did, cast an emphatic vote for their department.

During Saturday's election for a special fire tax district, 89 percent of the voters in the Bethel No. 1, Bethel No. 2, Bethel School, Bowling Green, Clover No. 1, Clover No. 2, Allison Creek and New Home districts supported the creation of a new tax district. Counting seven absentee ballots, the final total was 491 in favor, 62 against.

"I'm surprised they haven't had more than that," Bethel Chief Don Love said mid-day Saturday, of what would eventually be a 4.54 percent turnout. "As long as it's yes we'll be fine. As long as it's yes we'll be in good shape."

Love stopped short of celebrating the win, noting his department still needs to have the unofficial vote tallies certified, then assist the county to set up a board to determine how the new tax money -- projected close to $500,000 annually compared to the most recent Bethel budget of $97,000. All that, of course, pending county approval.

"We've still got three county council readings," Love said. "We still can't do too much."

County Councilman Tom Smith, who represents the Bethel area, is one of many supporters of the fire tax effort on council.

"I'd just like to thank the people who came out and supported the special-use district," he said. "It's not just the fire department, it's their families. Each time these guys go out, it impacts their family."

The new tax could appear as early as October, and ranges from 4 percent for homeowners to 6 percent for commercial property owners to 10.5 percent for industrial property owners.

Bethel promoted the tax as a much-needed aid to a department suffering from stagnate and now decreased giving in recent years. Until Saturday, the department funds came from community donations and county rural fire tax money, split just about half and half.

During the organization, petition and vote process for the tax, which lasted more than a year, Love admitted a smaller turnout could help his department. Holding the vote apart from other elections, he said, would bring out just the people educated on the issue.

"I figured this wouldn't interfere with schools, and you'd get a better turnout with most people being off on Saturdays. I guess not," Love said of holding the vote on Saturday.

Win Reese, an experienced poll manager working the traditionally highest turning out Bethel No. 2 at River Hills Community Church, said holding the vote on a Saturday as opposed to an election Tuesday did not have an impact on how many people voted. His precinct had just more than 70 voters by 1 p.m., ending the day with 135 in favor, 13 against.

"The Saturday doesn't make a difference," Reese said. "It's whether the voters are reached."

The highest turnout came at Bethel No. 1, where 144 people supported the plan and 18 opposed it. That precinct votes at Bethel Fire Station No. 1.

"There's only a couple of people who have expressed to me they didn't like it," Love said after spending most of his day at the department. "Everything else has been positive."

Poll workers at the fire station insisted having a vote at the volunteer station did not conflict the vote or cause any more problems than a vote impacting schools or stirring moral opposition would have at precincts located at schools or churches.

The big three districts --where every voter within the precinct also lives in Bethel limits -- were going to play a pivotal role in the outcome with about 80 percent of the total voters, Love said. Bethel No. 1, Bethel No. 2 and Lakeshore gathered 426 voters, approving the vote at an 88 percent rate.

Libby Neely with York County Registration and Elections said the results should be certified Friday.

While Smith sees Saturday's decision as a vote in favor of local volunteer efforts, he hopes donations go to other groups, too, such as River Hills-Lake Wylie EMS.

"Those folks are still strictly on donations," Smith said. "When they get the call, they're there."