If you live in West Ashley, don't complain about Charleston's emergency tax increase just yet.
You may end up turning a profit on the deal.
The mayor asked for this property tax hike, which City Council approved last week, ostensibly to put more police officers in downtown zones — his response to the ongoing cops-in-schools debate.
At first glance, it seemed that the Fire Department money in the proposal was just an afterthought. But it may be the most important part of the plan. And here's why:
In the next year, 40 new apartment buildings will open out around Grand Oaks and Carolina Bay, all of them three stories or taller.
And right now, the closest ladder truck to the Bee's Ferry area is in Byrnes Down — which is probably what would happen to those apartments before a truck could get there.
It's the response time
The Charleston Fire Department has been under a lot of pressure, and through a lot of change, since the Sofa Super Store fire in 2007.
New Fire Chief Karen Brack is getting good reviews for her efforts to right the ship. And she quickly realized the department isn't meeting some industry-standard response times, mainly in that area of “explosive growth.”
It should take a maximum of eight minutes for a ladder truck to reach those apartments. At best, Charleston's closest ladder truck is 10 minutes away. Throw in 5 o'clock rush hour and it would take even longer.
That may not seem like a huge deal, but it is to insurance underwriters. Putting a ladder truck within a few minutes of all that growth will save people more in insurance than the $35 more the owner of a $250,000 home would pay in property taxes.
Luckily, a majority on City Council recognized this. Councilman Bill Moody, who wasn't keen on the idea of an “emergency tax increase,” got the police to decrease their request to make sure the Fire Department's needs got funded.
“We have permitted 1,200 apartments in West Ashley and the closest ladder truck is 15 minutes away?” Moody says. “If we can't do better than that, we've got a problem.”
Take your medicine
Brack already is hunting for a new ladder truck, and those things aren't cheap. The last one the city bought cost a little more than $1 million.
But it's not a luxury, it's what the Fire Department needs to do the job. Especially since everyone and their brother is apparently moving to outer West Ashley.
“We're a little bit behind the curve on this,” Brack says. “We want to move as quickly as possible.”
At the same time, the city is moving on new equipment and a fire station in Cainhoy, another area of big growth — with nary a fire hydrant. It probably will save those people even more in insurance than the West Ashley folks.
It's a pain in the wallet, but Moody is right, this is about public safety. And if the politicians have to take some heat for this tax increase, so be it.
By allowing so many apartments to be built way out in the suburbs, they started this fire.
It's only right that they should put it out.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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