Former officials ask city for help with fire district

By Ben Robinson
Staff Reporter

PICKENS — At Monday’s Pickens City Council work session, former mayor Ted Shehan and longtime firefighter Jim Porter shared their concerns about the county entering into the fire protection business.

“I want to make sure everybody knows how we got to the point where we are now,” Shehan said.

Cities in the county and volunteer fire districts provided protection for the past 50 years.

“It all started when the county said ‘we can do it cheaper and better than the city is doing,’” Shehan said. “They have doubled the rates from $50 a year to $100, and we only have half the protection. Half the fire protection for double — no other way to put it.”

Shehan said that whereas the rural district was paying the city of Pickens about $310,000 through the $50 per household, the new budget is $612,000.

“Almost double,” Shehan said.

Current plans are to hire a new crew of seven employees, Shehan said, and the fire station will be at the stockade.

“They’re going to have to ride right by the Pickens City Fire Department after Jan. 1 when they answer a call,” Shehan said.

Shehan said the county plans to build stations around Pickens, and in fact the station on Fox Squirrel Ridge Road is only a mile from city limits.

“I wanted to make sure you would be wiling to serve it if we could get enough people in a two-mile radius,” Shehan said.

Mayor David Owens said the council was unanimous when voting to keep the fire department and the $75 tax fee.

“I don’t think anything has changed since then,” Owens said. “Speaking for myself, I think we would still serve any part of the Pickens Fire District, or all of it, if they wanted us to. This is something we would have to work out as far as funding.”

Shehan noted that living more than five miles from a fire station is costly. Within 4.9 miles from a station, insurance costs around $500 per year, he said, but a home 5.1 miles from a station would pay $1,500 annually.

Owens spoke proudly of the city fire department.

“We do have an ISO rating of 4.0,” Owens said. “We’ve got one of the best, if not the best, in the state.”

Shehan agreed.

“We’ve got an outstanding fire department,” he said.

Porter said while he personally liked some of the people on the other side of the fire district problem, “Some of them have lost sight of what’s really needing to be done.”