Pickens faces challenge

PICKENS — For the past several years, the city of Pickens has been a reluctant player in the local fire district situation.
The city fire department has been providing protection for those who live in city limits, as well as those who live in the Pickens Rural Fire District and the Shady Grove Fire District. But when contracts with the rural fire districts run out in two years, Pickens County plans to take over service to the Pickens Rural District and the Shady Grove districts.
Now the city has to get ready and look at the costs involved as they prepare for that change.
Pickens Mayor David Owens understands the issue, but is uncomfortable with the position the city is being put into.
“I kind of understand,” Owens said, “because people who live more than five miles from the city do not receive the city’s lower ISO rating, so they have higher insurance rates. But I want people to understand that citizens who live more than five miles outside the city still have protection. They just face higher insurance rates than those who live within five miles of the city.”
City residents do not currently pay a “fire fee.”
“They are already paying city taxes that the county residents do not pay, so they don’t pay a fee,” Owens said.
People who live outside the city but inside the Pickens Rural Fire District pay a fee that amounts to less than 15 cents a day.
“Not a bad price for quality fire protection, and a ISO rating of 4, which is a pretty good,” Owens said.
Owens noted that while city residents pay no fire fee, the city taxes help pay to replace waterlines, routine maintenance and other costs adding up to hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.
“We do pay our fair share,” Owens said.
Owens said city council now must discuss the options available with the new arrangement. The department now operates with four full-time employees — a chief and three firefighters. Thirty eight volunteers help fight fires, Owens said.
The city must decide to continue with the same set-up, or perhaps having three full-time firefighters and the chief being one of those.
City residents would likely have to pay an additional fire fee if that option is chosen.
“If we alow the county to provide fire protection, the residents will also have a fire fee,” he said. “The other option would be to talk with the county about it taking over the city fire department as well. The county would then have to rent the actual fire department and all of its equipment from the city.
“We do have options,” Owens said. “We’ve got a good council, and I’m sure they will study the issues and find what is right for the citizens of Pickens. We’ve always worked well with the county and will continue to do so in the future.”
Personally, Owens would like to see the city keep its fire department.
“Maybe it’s because I was a volunteer fireman and I’ve lived here all my life, that Pickens pride, I guess,” Owens said. “I like the idea of neighbors protecting neighbors. But money rules everything. We’ll just have to get together and determine what is the best option for the residents of Pickens.”