Proposed fire fee increases by GVW Fire Department are hot topic at Aiken County Council meeting

·4 min read

Jun. 2—The Graniteville-Vaucluse-Warrenville Fire Department was on the hot seat Tuesday during Aiken County Council's meeting at the Aiken County Government Center.

GVW would like substantial increases in its fire fees to be included in the county's 2021-2022 fiscal year budget, but several people spoke out against them, saying they are too large.

In addition, members of County Council asked GVW fire chief Alan Kneece pointed questions about why the hikes being sought are so big or expressed concerns.

County Council, which is in the process of finalizing the budget, unanimously approved the second reading of the ordinance to establish it during the meeting.

To take effect, the fees need to receive County Council's blessing.

But Councilman Phil Napier of District 6 told Kneece he thought the increases GVW wants are "too dramatic" and would not support them.

"If we (County Council) would raise taxes like that, people would pitch a fit," Napier said. "Everyone would pitch a fit."

Napier, who is a former GVW fire chief, also said Kneece and his GVW colleagues had not done enough to let residents in their fire district know about the proposed hikes.

Kneece told County Council that his department is seeking the increases because it wants to purchase a 100-foot ladder truck, build two additional stations and hire some full-time personnel.

There are other reasons as well.

For properties with homes, the flat rate of $50 per year currently would increase to $60 for those with the lowest value and $300 for those with the highest value on the new fire fee schedule. The fees in between range from $90 to $270.

There now are no fire fees for unimproved property, but the GVW fire department would like to charge $35 for nonagricultural land and $50 for agricultural land.

The fee for mobile homes would be $50.

Kneece said that with the increases, his department's annual budget would grow from roughly $450,000 to $1.2 million.

There is a need for more service in the GVW fire district because "our area is growing in leaps and bounds" in terms of residential and commercial development, Kneece said.

The discussion about the GVW fire fees took place during a public hearing for the budget ordinance.

Among those speaking against the increase in the fees was Denise Fulmer of Graniteville.

She believes that upcoming development will "surely add substantially to GVW's bottom line" in the near future because the fire department will be able to collect more fire fees.

"There are currently close to 1,000 homes/lots planned for development over the next two years just in the Bettis Academy Road/Ascauga Lake Road corridor alone, not to mention the 800 planned for the next two years in the Trolley Line Road area," said Fulmer, who is a member of the Aiken County Planning Commission.

She also said that based on what she heard at a public hearing GVW held in April about the proposed fire fee increases, the department currently has a surplus in its budget of around $500,000.

"It's not about what they (GVW's leaders) want or what they need, but about what we as consumers can afford," said another person who opposed the fee increases.

Three readings of the budget ordinance are needed for final approval.

County Council's next meeting is scheduled for June 15.

The 2021-2022 fiscal year begins July 1.

Also on Tuesday, County Council approved the following unanimously:

—The third and final reading of an ordinance that would increase the maximum length of the special tax assessment period to 20 years for the rehabilitation of a historic property if it is extensive in scale and scope, will foster the economic viability of the surrounding community and is in the best interest of the county.

—The third and final reading of an ordinance that would provide tax incentives, in conjunction with Edgefield County, for Aiken Electric Cooperative's broadband network development project that will provide high-speed internet services to rural areas.

—The second reading of an ordinance that that would provide tax incentives, in conjunction with Saluda County, for Aiken Electric Cooperative's broadband network development project.

All nine members of County Council were present at Tuesday's meeting.

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