Tensions over paid SC fire chief continue

By John Marks
Lake Wylie Pilot

LAKE WYLIE, S.C. — Residents wanting to head off the hiring of a paid fire chief in Lake Wylie are making a late push, though they may not have much time.

The same day the Lake Wylie Pilot posted a letter online from the Bethel Rural Fire Tax Board explaining its reasoning for hiring a paid chief to lead Bethel Volunteer Fire Department, a change.org petition began circulating in opposition. The petition states a paid fire chief “will have an unwanted and unwarranted impact on our community.”

Allison Love, who opposes the hiring, shared the petition on Facebook urging others to sign. Love will be the area’s York County Council representative beginning in January and has vowed to “undo”whatever she can related to hiring a new chief.

Within the first dozen hours the petition gained 30 signatures online. The stated plan is to present it to the fire tax board. That board next meets at 6 p.m. Monday at Bethel Volunteer Fire Department Station 1, 5620 Oakridge Road.

The issue of a paid chief has been contentious. The fire tax board says a paid chief will provide unity, consistency and safety in coordinating efforts of volunteers and paid staff. They see it as a needed step in a growing community. Many volunteers argue they have their elected volunteer chief and the hire is a waste of tax money when volunteers are willing and able to serve the area.

York County Council in October favored the tax board when pressed by volunteers about operational control. Volunteers say they were given control decades ago, but the five-member appointed special fire tax district board was given the same control when it was formed in 2009. The department, with Don Love as chief then and now, petitioned the community in 2008 and 2009 to create the tax district. Community donations and county support flatlined as call volume and new structures increased.

Just about the only point both parties agree on is a paid chief will be needed at some point. For the fire tax board, the time is now.

“Our current volunteer chief has done a good job, but he cannot devote the time and energy needed to do everything that could be done, and it is not realistic to think a volunteer would devote that time,” the tax board letter posted Monday states.

The petition counters with the idea that a paid chief would replace the more than 50 years of firefighting experience of volunteer Chief Don Love. The paid chief would cost almost $120,000 in salary, vehicle and other costs that could be spent elsewhere.

“The taxpayer dollars would be much better spent on several paid firefighters,” the petition states.

Several residents stated on the petition similar sentiment of Wendi Day, who wrote the current setup is working and volunteers can do the job with the chief they elected.

“We do not need a paid chief, the current chief is doing a great job,” Day wrote. “All members of the department need to answer to him, not some tax board that has no experience as firemen.”

Copyright 2016 the Lake Wylie Pilot

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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