The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance

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County Council, December 8

More action sought to mitigate flooding on Wadmalaw
Firefighters concerned about management of St Paul’s Fire District
Warwick Jones

The agenda for yesterday’s meetings of the Finance Committee and Council was short and featureless. But the meetings were not without interest. Citizens from Wadmalaw Island and firefighters from the St. Paul’s Fire District had much to say during the citizens’ participation period.

The complaint from the Wadmalaw folk was about flooding. Most of the speakers referred to water surrounding their houses, the runoff from roads, blocked channels and drains. The problems have existed for many years but were particularly acute after the heavy rains in early October. Flooding still persists in many areas and nobody seems to be doing anything about it. Some speakers noted the difficulty in determining responsibility for taking action - the County or the SC Department of Transportation.

Council was sympathetic to their cries. Chairman Summey noted that the County was still getting on top of the problems brought about by the heavy rains. Staff also noted that they were aware of the problems on Wadmalaw and were working through a backlog of problems throughout the County. The Chairman expressed an earnest desire to address the issues and said that he would inspect the flooded areas himself in the next few days. Council member Darby bewailed the lack of action for so long in addressing these problems and called for a plan of action.

Firefighters from the St Paul’s Fire District were present “en masse” last night. They were unhappy about the way District was being run. The District has new stations and trucks but was critically understaffed. It needed to hire 12 new firefighters. The lack of firefighters was undermining the safety of citizens served by the District. The Mayor of Meggett also spoke last night and supported the firefighters’ claims.

The speakers noted that it was strange that the District had funds to build stations and buy equipment, but no funds to hire firefighters. They questioned the competency of the Board of Commissioners. The Commissioners were aware of the problems, they said, but refused to take remedial action. One firefighter noted that pay was so low, the District could not attract and retain personnel. He joined the District 9 years ago at a remuneration of $9.72 an hour. There has been no change since he joined. All the speakers asked the County to take action.

But action was not immediately forthcoming, at least not to the satisfaction of the firefighters.

As Council members noted, the Fire District was an independent body. Governor Haley made the appointments to the Fire District though the County forwarded the names of those it recommended. However, the only person who could “unappoint” commissioners was the Governor. The Commissioners set the District’s budget which had to be approved by the County. Staff noted that the budgets approved had usually sought annual increases to the extent allowed by State law.

Council member Johnson noted that the problem was not one for the County. The District had to sort out is own problems. Other Council members were more sympathetic. Council member Rawl noted that 4 commissioners had to be elected to the body in June 2016 inferring that the firefighters attempt to find candidates who were sympathetic to their views.

It was not clear what action Council could take on the issue but some Council members were asked to look further into the matter.

It may be irrelevant to the issue but we sought more information on the St Paul's Fire District from its website. It was a challenge. The last "news" posted was in 2012. We also could not find the names of the Commissioners. Maybe the firefighters views are right about management.

Editor's note
The following was released by the County subsequent to the publication of the above note.

Charleston County Council is forming a committee to examine the current financial situation of the St. Paul Fire District. Our purpose is to identify the specific funding issues and what solutions are available to the citizens. Public safety is an essential service and a top priority at Charleston County. Our authority on this issue is limited by law, but we will work to help our citizens as much as it is possible.

The committee will include Vice Chairman Vic Rawl, Councilmembers Anna Johnson and Dickie Schweers, and staff from Charleston County Government. When necessary, the committee will ask for input from the citizens and firefighters who voiced their concerns to County Council.

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