Whitehurst objects to piecemeal approach to fire district issues

By Ben Robinson
Staff Reporter

COUNTY — Pickens County councilman Trey Whitehurst objected to a request last week from the Crosswell Fire District for a federal grant to increase personnel for the next two years.

The SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grant would allow the district to hire additional firefighters for two years, but the district would be responsible for coming up with the funds after the two-year period.

“I appreciate what you’re doing,” Whitehurst said at last week’s county council meeting. “But as a council we need to look at what we’re doing. We need to hold off until next year, and we may find that you need seven people instead of one.”

Councilman Tom Ponder suggested that the fire district should be rewarded for paying attention to its needs. He said district officials would know what would cover their needs. He said it would not be wise to wait until the county developed a master plan before making any improvements.

“I don’t know how long it is going to take us to get a master plan,” Ponder said. “Some rural districts are better than others.”

Whitehurst said that if the county waits to respond it faces the danger of attacking the problem “piecemeal by piecemeal” and never arriving at a solution for everyone.

Interim county administrator Ralph Guarino pointed out that even with the grant, the district would be committing to a tax hike in two years.

Council voted 4-1 in favor of accepting the grant, with councilman Neil Smith absent and Whitehurst voting against the measure.

Ponder and Whitehurst butted heads again over an item on the consent agenda. Whitehurst wanted an item on the agenda on administration and finance of jail fees and the jail committee to be pulled out into a legal system overview committee that would also discuss issues such as the proposed construction of a new law enforcement center.

Ponder suggested that the matter on the consent agenda did not need to be bogged down with the other issues. Council approved moving the matter to committee with a 3-2 vote, with Ponder and councilman Randy Crenshaw voting against the measure.

Earlier in the meeting, Pree Hamilton spoke to council reminding it about the Pickens County Animal Shelter’s fundraising efforts, such as a golf tournament, a 5K run and the proposal of a councilman to kiss a pig to raise funds. Hamilton said her goal was to end the financial problems the shelter faces.

“We need to get to where we are more comfortable so we can survive,” Hamilton said.

County resident Junius Smith commended Hamilton on her efforts and encouraged council to give whatever economic support was possible.

Smith and friends have been passing around a petition against any tax increases. He said the county is doing better in guarding taxpayer money than the school board.

“The school board is getting in deeper and deeper dept,” Smith said.

Weldon Clark gave suggestions on the county passing new regulations for any shooting ranges. The county place a moratorium on shooting range applications until new regulations can be discussed.

Clark suggested an initial fine of $100 for violating the county’s shooting range ordinance. The fine would increase until the fourth offense, which would require a $1,000 fine and a six-month stay in jail.