PICKENS—The Pickens City Fire Department presented a variety of scenarios to the City on what it will need to do in order to keep the department in the city on Monday.
Three of the scenarios leave the city’s fire protection under the authority of a city fire department while cutting spending on operations. Three others turn fire protection of the city over to a county department with a variety of spending and funding options under consideration.
Currently the Pickens City Fire Department provides fire protection to the city as a city department and to the Pickens Rural District and the Shady Grove Fire District through a contract with both districts.
The future of that arrangement has been thrown into quetsion with a decision by the county to end contracted services with the city for fire protection within the Pickens Rural and Shady Grove districts.
“The city has provided fire protection for the Pickens rural area for many years, and we have always kept up to date equipment to maintain that quality of fire protection,” said Pickens Mayor, David Owens. “The City of Pickens is willing to continue that quality of fire protection to the citizens of rural Pickens. Unfortunately, the county has come in and decided to do their own fire protection by building three new fire stations and will have to purchase all new equipment to provide that service and the yearly fee will increase.”
The Pickens City Fire Department receives its funding through city taxes and has a fire district population of 3,126, while the rural fire district receives its funding from a yearly $50 per residence fire fee.
The rural fire board, which consists of five people from that district, advised the Pickens County Council they wanted to go on their own with fire protection by providing their own station, services, and man power.
The County Council, at the recommendation of the Rural Fire Board, decided to terminate the contract with the city of Pickens in 2014 and develop its own fire services.
“There are hundreds of residences in the rural fire district who are not under fire protection because they are more than five miles from the station,” said Pickens County Administrator, Chappell Hurst.
According to the Pickens City financial statements, the fire expenses were $504,826 last year.
“Pickens Rural Fire District and the Shady Grove District are both contracted with the city of Pickens for fire protection and gave the city a total of $505,211 last year which was made possible through the fire fees collected,” said Finance Director of Pickens County, Ralph Guarino.
The city of Pickens maintains that quality fire protection involves more than just man power.
“The county says that the Pickens City Fire Department’s budget is solely funded by the Pickens Rural Fire District’s $50 fee, but in truth, there is more to running a fire department than county funds, there is city taxes, new water lines, and other forms of infrastructure than can cost in the millions,” said Owens. “Pickens city residents contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in fire protection efforts as well, upgrading the water, water lines, fire hydrants, and keeping them all serviced.”
Mayor Owens is adamant in keeping the city’s fire department and stated at the meeting that he hopes the city administrator and the city council would do everything within their power to keep the city’s fire department.
“The residents of Pickens are going to have to pay a fire fee regardless, so why not keep our own fire department in our city that has been here since 1933,” said Owens.
Effective and quality fire protection is of great concern to the city and to the county.
“Both the city and county are interested in providing quality fire protection for everyone,” said Hurst.