By Stan Welch
A brewing, if somewhat contrived, controversy concerning the Anderson County Council and the Anderson County Fire Protection Commission took center stage at Tuesday’s Council meeting. District Two Councilwoman Gracie Floyd, exhibiting a newfound interest in the topic, brought the discussion to the floor.
The root of the controversy lies in the funding challenges faced by the county’s thirty one fire departments. The Commission, which administers the revenues generated by the current six mill levy, originally sent a letter to the Council asking their support for a four mill increase.
The Council, which does not appoint the Fire Commission and has no oversight authority over them and their administration of the approximately $3.3 million annual budget, chose to seek an opinion from the Attorney General as to their role and or responsibility in the situation. During the interim, the issue lost momentum, and the fire commission withdrew its request for support.
Under Floyd’s auspices, however, they reinstated the request and appeared Tuesday night to plead their case, which is a strong one. For starters, the levy has not been increased by the General Assembly since the Fire Commission was established in 1987. The Commission has been benefitting somewhat from the growth of the county’s tax base. But with more than nine hundred volunteers, making it one of the nation’s largest volunteer systems, 27 fire districts and 31 fire stations to support, funding is a constant challenge.
The representatives also challenged the idea of FILOTs, saying that they cost the commission tax revenues.
Chairman Tommy Dunn, who has been involved in the fire protection system for more than thirty years, responded to that by pointing out that the fee in lieu of taxes tool is and has been essential in fueling the county’s extraordinary economic growth in recent years.
“Without that tool, and others, we would not have thousands more people making good livings and paying additional taxes that we have. There is a lot of land generating revenue today that was being taxed as farm land ten years ago. So I would suggest that we all be grateful for the growth our county has seen in recent years.”
Floyd, in the throes of apparent remorse, apologized for her part in failing to address this issue. “We need to address this as a Council, but for myself, I truly apologize.”
Dunn, who had received the Attorney General’s opinion earlier in the day, an opinion that in fact stated the Council’s key role in addressing the issue, whether through a referendum or the issuing of a general obligation bond, told Commissioner Holliday to resubmit the request in writing and the Council would begin discussions of the request.
Anderson Districts 1 & 2 Career & Technology Center recently received a $50,000 donation from Michelin North America. The funds from Michelin will support and help maintain the Mechatronics program at the ACTC. Mechatronics is a three-year program that provides students starting their sophomore year with dual credit through Tri-County Technical College.
According to ACTC Director Hollie Harrell, Mechatronics is a new interdisciplinary field involving mechanical systems, instrumentation, electronics, robotics, automation, computers and control systems. Mechatronics technicians are trained to master the skills necessary to install, maintain and repair this sophisticated equipment.
“With technology and automated processes advancing quickly in today’s fast-paced workplace, these maintenance roles are vital to the success of manufacturing in the Upstate for Michelin and other industrial companies helping drive the state’s economy,” said Melanie McLane, personnel manager for Michelin North America, Inc.’s Anderson facility.
“Thanks to Michelin’s generous support, a training center will be completed and equipped with advanced manufacturing equipment,” said Harrell.
A plaque was placed at the front entrance of the training facility, recognizing the Michelin partnership. The training facility is located in a former conference center room, which doubled the classroom space for the program. A new conference center being constructed in the front of the center is slated to be completed in April.
The donation will help the CTC in their effort to produce a skilled workforce in Anderson County. The expanded Mechatronics facility provides students with dual credit opportunities with Tri-County Technical College.
The Career and Technology Center serves 2,100 students in 20 curriculum fields. Harell has been Director at the CTC for four years and on the staff since 2002. Mark Franks is the Mechantronics instructor.