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Fire tax vote set for Thursday

LAKE WYLIE--July 20 could be a big night for Lake Wylie.

The agenda for York County Council's July 20 meeting won't be posted until Thursday, but County Clerk Tonya Huell confirmed Friday that two issues with major implications throughout Lake Wylie are scheduled for a vote. The first, a proposed special fire tax district, would add a new, annual tax to all residents within the Bethel Volunteer Fire Department and, firefighters say, improve local fire service.

"There is a public hearing and consideration of third reading on the agenda for July 20 at this time," Huell said Friday.

The fire tax issue came up a year ago when Bethel volunteers devised with a plan to combat declining donations in a growing service area. On May 2 of this year voters approved the new tax, adding 2.3 mills at 4-10.5 percent of a property's value depending on whether it's residential, commercial or industrial. A $100,000 home, for instance, would be charged $9.20 a year compared to a $100,000 business at $13.80 and a $100,000 industrial facility at $24.15. The vote passed with 89 percent approval.

Along with two unanimous votes so far by the council and overwhelming community support, Bethel Chief Don Love anticipates little if any opposition at the July 20 vote.

"I don't anticipate any there, either," he said. "I haven't heard of any opposition to it."

With an approval, Love's department will boost its annual budget from less than $100,000 to close to $500,000 and in coming years could add everything from trucks to department space to newer equipment. A special board will be established to review major department spending through the tax district, which then must be approved by the county council.

With the tax, Love sees long-term benefits like reduced insurance rates, some paid personnel for daytime hours when volunteers are working and overall better protection. Without it, his department could face severe financial strain or even "going broke" in two years.

"They're still telling me they could have it this October when the tax bill goes out and they'd collect it in January," Love said of funding if the third reading passes. "By mid-February, first of March timeframe we should start seeing some of the money."

The other major decision impacting Lake Wylie is not up for third reading, but could take another step toward it.

"It won't be a third reading, but a second reading," Huell said. "I think there were some changes made."

An new Lake Wylie buffer ordinance came up for second reading June 15, but council deferred that vote to the July 20 meeting. A process that began two years ago and included numerous public forums and discussion groups in Lake Wylie and beyond would change rules for the property within 50 feet of the high water mark of Lake Wylie. The ordinance at various times also included the Catawba River, perennial streams and other county water bodies.

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