York County fire departments seek tax increases to pay for new staff, building

Lt. Jeff Nash, right, and firefighter Josh Stanley, back, conduct the weekly test of equipment at the Flint Hill Fire Department in Fort Mill on Wednesday.
Lt. Jeff Nash, right, and firefighter Josh Stanley, back, conduct the weekly test of equipment at the Flint Hill Fire Department in Fort Mill on Wednesday. aburriss@heraldonline.com

York County government departments want to add more personnel in next year’s budget, and some county residents may face a tax increase because of it.

In York County’s proposed 2015-16 budget unveiled last week, included a proposal for a 2 percent property tax increase to pay for increased county funding, including 21 new employee positions. But that proposal whittles down department requests for 17 more positions officials say are needed to meet increasing demand from the public.

County fire departments asked the York County Council on Monday to boost tax revenue within their respective tax districts to pay for more firefighters and, in one case, to build a new station to provide life-saving services to a growing community more quickly. The requests came at a budget workshop where several department heads made their case to cover funding and staffing needs.

The Flint Hill Fire Department is asking for an additional $500,000 to pay for two new full-time, round-the-clock positions (for a total of six individual firefighters) plus two additional part-time firefighters in order to have more staff available on call 24/7, or the equivalent of $12 more each year on an owner-occupied home valued at $100,000. The proposed change would go into effect over the next three years, starting when the new budget year begins in July.

Next year, Flint Hill is asking for a $55,720 increase, partly to cover an expiring grant that covers some part-time positions. In 2017, homeowners’ contributions will go up by $258,262 to pay for a fifth full-time firefighter position (in addition to the current four), and add a sixth the next year at a cost of $162,562. Adding one full-time position requires hiring three new firefighters.

“Our goal is to have four full-time and two-part-time firefighters on call around the clock by 2018,” said Flint Hill fire Chief David Jennings.

The new funding is necessary, Jennings said, because projections show the Flint Hill area of Fort Mill is adding an additional 10,000 residents in the next 25 years – an increase of almost a third – and the number of calls to the station will double to almost 2,000 per year by 2016.

Meanwhile, the Riverview Fire Department, which also serves the Fort Mill area, is asking for $1 million to build a new substation on S.C. 160 near Grant Farm Drive. Riverview fire Chief Sam Lesslie told the council the new building is needed to provide faster service to nearby homes. Fire engines have to take Zoar Road into North Carolina in order to reach houses along the Lake Wylie shoreline, and Riverview needs a closer fire bay to reduce the insurance burden on the homeowners.

“We need a three-bay building, with a training area, offices and a bath and shower,” Lesslie said. “We rented a property for a temporary building, and to meet the ISO (insurance) requirements, we had to put (the engine) in a heated RV shed.”

Other county departments also aired their needs Monday. The Newport Fire Department is asking for a smaller increase of $15,000 to pay for two part-time firefighters to cover weekday shifts at the department that serves the area between Rock Hill and York.

Other positions will be paid for out of the county’s general fund, with public safety offices having the biggest needs.

The York County Sheriff’s Office has asked for six more officers to cover courtroom security. The 911 communications office has asked for four new positions plus an additional radio technician, while the county’s fire safety director has asked for two new fire prevention technicians.

Bristow Marchant •  803-329-4062