By Stan Welch
The latest chapter in the story of the efforts to increase funding for the Anderson County Fire Commission moved to Columbia this week, where the newly elected chairman of the Anderson County legislative delegation, Representative West Cox, held a delegation meeting to address the situation.
The problem 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, is seeking support for a four mill increase. Those revenues support an annual budget of some $3.3 million. The additional millage, if approved, would result in approximately $600,000 in additional revenues annually.
The Council does not appoint the Fire Commission and has no oversight authority over them. The commission is appointed by the county’s legislative delegation. In 2018, the Commission sought the County Council’s support for the additional millage. In response to the commission’s request for its support, the county council 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.
Recently, however, the commission has once again begun to advocate for its 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 question has been relegated to a referendum question. The delegation agreed to put the question to the voters in a referendum. But there is a snag. The delegation assumed that the referendum would be added to the ballot at the next general election. The fire commission, running short on patience, is seeking a stand alone referendum.
That would cost the county approximately $90,000 to conduct. That cost reportedly startled the delegation, and led to the meeting in Columbia. The delegation chose to seek another opinion from the attorney general to reinforce whether the county council or legislative delegation has authority in the matter.
Chairman West Cox, Senator Mike Gambrell, and Representative Anne Thayer declined to respond to the Journal’s request for comment on the issue.
By Stan Welch