Landowners in rural Berkeley County could see an increase in their fire-protection fees next year.
Berkeley County Council’s committee on Justice and Public Safety gave initial approval to a proposal Monday that would increase fees on vacant lots and property — currently $2 to $25 per year — to $10 to $100 annually, depending on the acreage. The fee for houses would remain $70 per year.
The new rate would bring in an extra $160,000, which would likely be used for a study on countywide fire protection, said Councilman Ken Gunn, chairman of the Justice and Public Safety committee.
Councilman Caldwell Pinckney, who represents the rural area, said he would only support the ordinance if that were the case.
“I don’t think currently that we are getting the kind of protection that we should because of the lack of equipment and some other things as well,” he said. “I’m hoping that an outside, independent study would cause this to happen.”
The fee will be assessed on land within the county’s Special Fire Tax District, which was created in 1987 to help the 26 rural fire departments collect fees. Prior to that, firefighters often had to go door to door, and the amount they collected was their operating budget.
Councilman Steve Davis, who also represents the upper county, said he is “concerned about another tax on the backs of the people who can least afford it without some proper justification.”
Unimproved land was targeted because the departments respond to more brush fires than any other types, Gunn said.