While Charleston County and its largest cities have held the line on property taxes this year, some of the public service districts that provide fire protection in unincorporated areas have raised their rates.

St. Paul's Fire District will have the largest property tax increase in the county this year, up nearly 12 percent from last year.

The large increase comes after years of smaller ones, as the fire district dipped into reserve funds to help cover day-to-day expenses.

"We are using over $500,000 of reserve and undesignated funds to balance our budget, and we have been doing that for years," Fire Chief Doc Matthews Jr. said.

He said the tax increase was necessary to "stop the bleeding" and avoid a budget crisis in the coming years, at a time when the district is working to improve fire protection for the sprawling 465-square-mile section of the county.

Hollywood, Meggett, Ravenel and Edisto Island rely on St. Paul's 55 firefighters, who also protect a large unincorporated area of the county that's mostly forest. Matthews said plans to add a seventh fire station and a training center could improve protection for the area, and insurance premiums could drop as a result.

"We had homeowners from Meggett come out and support whatever we have to do to build a new station and get their insurance down," Matthews said.

Most homeowners in the fire district won't take a big hit from the property tax increase.

The median home there is worth $125,000, and would be taxed an additional $25. At the high end of the scale, the 38 homes estimated by the county to be worth between $1 million and $2 million would have between $200 and $400 added to their bills for the Fire District.

"Personally, I'll pay another 12 percent because those fellows have been providing excellent service out here," said E.M. Skidmore of Edisto.

As with all property taxes in South Carolina, businesses pay 50 percent more than homeowners, and see a greater impact from tax increases.

Metal Trades Inc., one of the largest taxpayers and employers in the fire district, will see its property tax bill for the district rise by more than $1,000, according to an analysis by The Post and Courier. Metal Trade officials were unavailable for comment Tuesday.

Unlike larger governments that have been able to avoid tax increases by leaving positions unfilled and trimming expenses, public service districts typically provide only basic services, such as fire protection and in some cases sewer service, and have less room to cut without affecting services.

"I actually had to cut three positions we wanted to add," Matthews said.

The James Island Public Service District also is raising its property tax this year, by slightly more than 4 percent, and the East Cooper Fire District raised its property tax rate by more than 3 percent.

Charleston County Council approves the district budgets after they are drafted by local commissions.