PICKENS COUNTY, SC (WSPA) – Pickens County is looking to improve fire protection across the county.

The county could soon move from fire fees to a millage-based revenue system.

Billy Gibson, Director of Pickens County Emergency Services, said the goal is to generate $8.9 million to increase manpower and improve equipment.

County officials said three fire districts are already on a millage rate system.

“We do have three districts that are now on a millage rate, which means that their portion of fire protection fee is based on a millage, which is based on the value of the home, or the business, or the outdoor land,” Gibson said.

“We had 10 fire districts that up until this year, were funded by a fire fee and those fire fees in the past, depending on what district you had lived in, could vary depending on geographic area. We literally had places in the county where if you lived on one side of the road, you would pay one fire fee, if you lived on the other side of the road in a comparable house, you paid another fire fee,” Gibson said.

Gibson said that Pickens County Council had the emergency services board revamp the fire fee schedule to make it more equitable, based on square footage.

“So, the house and or the business, depending on how big it was, that’s how much fire fee they paid,” Gibson said.

“So now, going forward, the homes and businesses and outdoor land as well as vehicles, motorcycles, RV’s will be assessed at 23 mill fire tax to help pay for fire protection in the county,” Gibson said. “I know 23 mill sounds kind of daunting. It sounds kind of large, but when you figure that we will be funding in $8.9 million dollars, a $8.9 million budget out of that, that’s pretty good millage rate.”

This means rather than a fee, people would pay taxes through a more organized system based on property and land value verses geographic area.

“Our base fire fee was around $91 and that was for a very small home–that was our base fee. It went up depending on how big your home was,” said Gibson. “What we found was in most cases, we feel like our customers’ millage rate–the tax will pretty much be the same.”

“For example, if someone lived in a $100,000 home, right now, on average they would be paying $91 for their fire fee. We know that that millage rate will be around $84 plus if they do have a vehicle,” said Gibson. “On average our vehicle taxes would be around $17 to $18 dollars, so that’s going to stay pretty much the same.”

“The folks that would see the increase would be the larger homes that are worth much more, in some of our more upscale developments,” Gibson said.

The changes do not include municipalities inside Pickens County, such as Pickens, Easley, Central, and Clemson.

Gibson said operation costs are going up, and with growth, this will help. Officials hope this will help with improving public safety.

“Our entire goal is to be able to improve public safety, and as I said with the fire fees we had inequitable fire protection in each district. This will help us move to making sure we have equal fire protection in all of our districts,” Gibson said.

“Our main goal is going to be to move towards manning fire stations that currently are not manned,” Gibson said. “We know the main thing that drives public safety, is response times. So, we have some stations that are already manned. We have stations that are only manned during the day, and then we have some stations that are not manned at all.”

Gibson said that once more funding is available, they will start hiring more full-time firefighters and make sure their fleet is up to date.

One woman said this is a good thing, no matter the cost.

“Because safety’s first. I mean I got grandchildren and I want to know that they’re going to be able to get them out of there if there’s a fire,” said resident Donna Waddell.

“Safety is more important. If we have more fire stations and more manpower, it would be best,” Waddell said.

David Scott Sentell said more manpower would help, but he was concerned about the possible cost for some.

“It’s going to be hard, because right now, everything is so tight. Gas is just unbelievably high,” Scott Sentell said.

Officials said the will go before Pickens County Council for a third and final reading in a special called meeting in June.