HICKS COLUMN: St. Johns Fire District making the right moves to appease Kiawah
It's a good thing the St. Johns Fire District decided to show Kiawah a little love.
If it hadn't, things might not look real good right now.
A couple of weeks ago, the Johns Island public service district commission voted to add two more seats to its seven-member board, giving Kiawah more representation.
That came a month after the commission initially, foolishly, said no to that proposal.
The first vote was good politics, as some folks on Johns Island don't get along with their Kiawah neighbors, but it was bad policy. Really bad.
Kiawah taxes currently fund about 62 percent of the PSD's $10.5 million annual budget. When you add Seabrook, those two islands are 77 percent of the budget. But until that vote, Kiawah and Seabrook each had only one member on the commission.
If that decision had stood, the district would not be sitting pretty, seeing as how the long-time fire chief just announced he is leaving.
Do the math
Commission Chairman Barry Hart was absolutely right: Things were clearly out of whack in the district.
The fire district serves 64,000 acres of Johns Island. There are about 7,300 buildings or houses on that acreage. Kiawah alone has 29,000 acres and nearly 3,600 buildings.
So basically, Johns Island has about twice the coverage area and, until the vote, four times the representation.
In other words, the commission made a smart move.
“I think it's important for us because we're at least getting better representation than we had,” says Kiawah Mayor G. Steven Orban.
It behooves Johns Island to promote that kind of diplomacy. Especially since Chief Karl Ristow is stepping down. You see, Ristow is one of the reasons Kiawah opted against forming its own fire department in 1998.
Search for new chief
Right now Kiawah is in the middle of another fire service study, similar to the one it did 15 years ago.
And again, the question of building its own department is on the table.
The St. Johns Fire District is naturally eager to keep that from happening. Aside from giving Kiawah two additional seats on the board, the commission is now talking about a national search to get another quality chief. Hart says they are keeping all their municipalities — Rockville, Seabrook and Kiawah — in the loop.
Will this additional representation on the St. Johns Fire District Commission, and proactive work to find a new chief, help sway Kiawah's opinion? No one knows. Orban says he isn't sure what the study will recommend.
“I realize if we happened to drop out it would be a tremendous hardship to Johns Island,” Orban says.
That would make him unlikely to support a move to leave St. Johns. But you see, Orban is not running for re-election next month, so a new mayor and council will the make decision on their fire service.
In other words, it's a good thing St. Johns is offering more representation and promising a quality replacement for Ristow.
It could turn out to be the most important fire they've ever put out.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org.