MONCKS CORNER - Members of the Berkeley County's 26 rural fire departments showed up at Tuesday's council meeting to protest the alleged interference of Councilman Ken Gunn on the Fire Tax Advisory Board and ask that the board be disbanded and reformed.
Gunn is chairman of the committee on justice and public safety, which oversees the fire tax advisory board. At issue is money collected into a pool to help the smaller departments pay for training and equipment.
About 500 volunteers serve the 26 departments to cover all of the county except Moncks Corner, Goose Creek and Hanahan, which have their own departments.
The county's fire tax advisory board, which is made up of County Council members' appointees, is overstepping its bounds, the chiefs say.
"Now we have the organized board and they realize that there's money sitting in this pool fund ... they are trying to take control of that pool fund and pretty much stopping everything we've started," said Deputy Chief Donald Martin of the Lake Moultrie Fire Department.
"For those folks to determine what's best for fire protection is wrong," said Chief Timothy Stephenson of the Whitesville Rural Fire Department. "They don't know how to spend my (department's) money, but yet they turned their backs on us and said, 'We know better.' They are not allowing us to do our jobs."
Gunn's influence has "guided a majority of the members in an unnatural direction, derailing and crippling the efforts of the chairman" of the Fire Tax Advisory Board, according to a letter from Berkeley County Fire Chief's Association president Scott Lee. The letter was read by Martin and Stephenson at the meeting.
Gunn influenced the board to change the priority of funding requests, which nullified previously approved recommendations, the letter says. The advisory board has also changed its policy to require departments to seek approval before incurring debt, taking away the power of district fire boards.
Gunn, who said he was surprised by the chiefs' comments, called their actions politically motivated.
He also said their information is not correct. He said County Council last month approved $14,400 in matching funds for a tanker for the Jamestown Fire Department. There are currently no other requests.
Issues started last year when Gunn became chair of the council committee, which then denied fire departments' requests to increase residents' annual $70 fire assessment by $40, Gunn said.
He said he did not yet want to get into details, but "it's all going to come to light. This needs to be resolved for the citizens of Berkeley County."
Gunn said he has scheduled a meeting with the full council for June 9 and will hold meetings every two weeks until the issue is resolved.
Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713