As the Pickens Sentinel reported last month, the town of Six Mile is faced with a choice: join the Six Mile Rural Fire District, which is building a new fire station less than one mile from town limits, or chose to fund its own fire department.
The Six Mile Rural Fire Board and county officials have informed council of their intentions to build a new fire station, which is slated to begin operations in July 2012.
As the Fire District owns 90 percent of the Six Mile Department’s trucks and equipment, if the town decided to fund its own fire department, it would have to raise $861,000, a figure that includes trucks, equipments and the department’s annual budget.
If the town decides to join the fire district, town residents would pay the same fee for fire service as other members of the Six Mile Rural Fire District pay, said Mayor John Wade.
After holding a public hearing on the issue last month, council was slated to give first reading May 3 to a motion authorizing Wade to “execute any and all agreements with the Six Mile Rural Fire District and/or Pickens County that necessary for SMRFD to provide fire service within the town” beginning July 12, 2012.
But with the absences of Councilmen David Yongue and Jeff Dennis, both due to family illnesses, council voted to table the motion for now.
Though the council had a quorum present, Wade said he felt that such a decision should be made by the entire council
Resident Brenda Rippy asked if the town joining the fire district would cause rates to increase.
Rates for members of the Rural Fire District outside the town limits are currently $51 annually, Wade said.
“The county tells us that if the town chooses to become part of their district, that those rates will more than likely be in the $65-$75 a year range,” Wade said. “This council will be discussing rolling back taxes to that amount or not rolling them back to that amount after that decision is made as to whether or not to go into the fire district.”
Fire protection in the town is currently paid through millage, he said.
“It’s hard to come up with an average of $51 per household when you’re dealing with millage,” Wade said. “We have to come up with a fair amount to roll back millage. We can’t just say we’ll roll yours back 4 mils and hers back 6 mils. We have to do an overall rollback.
“That will be studied at length when we make that decision on the fire district,” Wade said.
Rates would not go into effect until the 2012-2013 budget, Wade said.
Six Mile Fire Chief Ronnie Duncan continues to oppose the town joining the fire district.
At the public hearing, Duncan said he thought building a completely new fire station not far from the town’s existing station was “foolish.”
“The town has always gotten a good deal as far as the fire department is concerned,” Duncan said, adding that, under the current agreement with the fire district, the town only pays 10 percent of the fire department’s budget.
Should the town join the fire district, the district board will take over all administration of the Six Mile Fire Department, effective July 1, 2012.
During last month’s public hearing, Duncan said he felt bad that the firefighters weren’t informed that the county and the district were considering this move.
Council David Yongue said town council had to be informed first — as the town council would ultimately make the choice about the future.
He also had concerns about how the station will be staffed.
“We don’t have a choice on what we’re getting,” Duncan said. “We’re going to get whatever they say we’re going to get.”
Yongue said district officials said they’ll work with the station’s chief on staffing the station beginning next July, if the town joins the district.
Duncan also objected to the proposed location of the new station, next to the EMS station on Mt. Olivet Road.
“Six Mile deserves better than that location,” Duncan said. “I feel we’re going downhill instead of uphill, because we’ve been going uphill for a long period of time.”
Yongue said district officials don’t expect the fire service to decorate.
“They do not expect the protection of the public to decrease, only increase,” Yongue said. “That’s based on the character of the firemen we have now,” he said. “We have the best. They don’t expect that to change.”
Even with a fire district rate increase, fire protection will still cost residents less than 30 cents a day, and that increase will allow the district to absorb the cost of the new station, Yongue said.
Yongue said earlier discussions had touched on the idea of leaving some trucks at the current station but for some reason that idea had been set aside.
Duncan said he worries that about the town losing the other services firefighters provide, including assisting with the town’s Issaqueena Festival and Christmas Parade.
“It’s going to be a lot different for the town, I’m sure,” Duncan said.
Duncan said he wants to continue working on one of his goals for the fire department — lowering Six Mile’s ISO ratings, which would in turn bring down resident’s insurance premiums.