Awendaw is struggling to pay its annual Charleston County bill for fire protection, but public safety will not suffer because of the financial problems, officials said Wednesday.
The town is more than a month late on $271,000 due to the Awendaw Fire District, which is administered by the county, Mayor Samuel Robinson said.
The 1,200 residents have no reason to worry about whether the fire department will respond to calls, he said.
“Fire protection has not and will not be interrupted,” he said.
The county is working with the town to come up with a payment plan, said county spokesman Shawn Smetana.
The problem dates back several years ago to a previous administration that did not make the annual fire protection payment. The money was used instead for other town business, said Administrator Bill Wallace.
“We were put in the situation of having to make two payments in one year, and we don’t have the money to do that,” he said.
Since then, the town has played catch-up on the long-overdue payment while meeting its current obligations. Awendaw is now current on its fire protection payments except for the latest one that came due on March 1, he said.
Wallace said there is no truth to speculation posted Wednesday at the website S.C. Hotline that money may be missing from Awendaw public coffers. The story, based on unnamed sources, said the town is not paying important bills. It references the overdue $271,000 Awendaw Fire District tab.
“There is no missing money. There is not a penny of money missing,” Wallace said.
He said that several audits done since a former administrator resigned in July of 2010 have documented that money was not misused.
Robinson said the town has struggled financially in part because it has subsidized its new water system. Currently, 134 residences or businesses are hooked into the system, which needs 200 customers to be able to pay its way, Robinson said.
“That has been one of the drains on our finances. The situation is not dire. We are meeting our fiscal responsibilities,” he said.
The Awendaw Fire Department provides fire and rescue services to unincorporated areas north of Mount Pleasant including McClellanville, South Santee and Germantown.