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Posted on: February 12, 2019

'Why do it?' Hardeeville Mayor upset as county ends fire service contract

Hardeeville Rescue 83

HARDEEVILLE, S.C. (WSAV) - For 13 years, Jasper County has contracted Hardeeville Fire services to cover Cherry Point and the Rural District, which includes a section of Highway 278 where about 26,000 people travel every day.

However, this year, the contract will not be renewed.

Jasper County Council voted in November to end the $732,000 dollar contract to start two stations of their own. 

"Having a station there, that's county-owned and with county resources, allows us to go any places we need to go," said Jasper Fire Rescue Chief Frank Edwards. "It gives us additional resources to respond."

But Hardeeville Mayor Harry Williams says it doesn't make sense.

"They're building these stations, these two new stations, at a cost of $1.8 million dollars. They are virtually next door to ours, therefore they are redundant. Why do it?" he asked. "Number two, the level of their service, both their equipment and the amount of staffing is less, and we can do it cheaper by $350,000 dollars a year."

Williams said that when an accident happens on Highway 278, they have two stations respond with a total of 7 firefighters and two ambulances. He said when Jasper Fire Rescue builds a fire station, they will only have two firefighters to respond. 

Chief Edwards said that is partially true.

"There will be two firefighters, but there will be two people on the ambulance, so if we get a fire call and the ambulance is there, then we'll have four people going to the fire call," Edwards said. "We also have the capability for automatic aid, or mutual aid, for additional resources to respond if we needed them."

"It is going to cost us more than we are currently paying in the first year," Jasper County Administrator Andrew Fulghum told News 3. "But then, year over year after that, it does not cost us more."

Fulghum said Cherry Point residents' current millage rate will go straight to Jasper County Fire Rescue instead of the city.

"What has happened over the years is that fee has increased to a level that it produces enough revenue for the county to serve that area," Fulghum said. "Each year we contract, we don't put in the necessary capital costs to be able to serve it permanently, and over the last 13 years, we've probably we've probably paid over $10 million dollars to the City of Hardeeville.

"And we're no further along in being able to provide service to the unincorporated areas than we were back then."

Mayor Williams said the contract does supply a quarter of their fire funding.

The city currently has three stations all about five miles apart, which contributes to a low ISO rate for anyone they serve. Williams said ending this contract will hurt ISO rates for residents in the Rural District and Cherry Point, causing property taxes to rise.

And in turn, his residents will also see higher taxes.

"The citizens of Hardeeville will not only have $732,000 dollars taken out of their budget, but now their county taxes will go and spend a million eight in capital, and a million one a year to operate those stations," Williams said.

Jasper County has hired a consultant to look into how they can best structure their fire service. The contract officially ends July 1. 

Edwards said one station will be open because they are buying a pre-existing building. The other will likely still be in construction.

He said they will have plans in place for those areas to still get fire coverage.  

The City of Hardeeville is sending a letter to residents in these unincorporated areas to ask people to attend the county council meeting next Tuesday, Feb. 19 to give public input.

By: Stassy Olmos

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