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Cane Bay residents waiting for county decision on fire station funding

BERKELEY COUNTY, SC (WCSC) -

Cane Bay residents say they are tired of waiting for funding to build a fire station in their community.

The nearest fire station is about nine miles away. 

On Monday night, the Berkeley County  Council discussed plans for the station, however council doesn't plan to make a decision about funding options until a county-wide fire study is complete.

Residents are concerned about their safety with the lack of immediate fire service in their area.

More than half of the people attending the council meeting came out in support of the station.

"When you set up a development as large as Cane Bay is, that should have been one of the first things to go in is a fire department," Gene Budzichowski, a Cane Bay resident, said.  "This community has been in existence for more than 10 years there's still no fire department there. It's unacceptable."

Right now there is donated land for the station, but Fire Chief Timothy Stephenson of the Whitesville Rural Volunteer Fire Deptartment says they don't have the budget to build it.

"The reality is we've been trying to build that fire station for quite some time," Stephenson said. "I know everyone wants to put that blame on the county, however, the way that the fire system is set up in Berkeley County it really is the fire department's fault and ultimately my fault. This issue is we've just not had the budget to allow us to build any type of fire house out there."

Stephenson says the fire station for the community will cost about $3 million dollars and the fire department's budget is at about $516,000.

The station has been approved for a United States Department of Agriculture loan and one way they're looking to pay for the loan is through a special tax district.

Taxes would go from $75  for fire fees to one hundred dollars more.

The chief hopes to gather enough resident signatures in support of the increase of fees so that council will get on board with the tax district for funding.

Without 75 percent of resident signatures from the Cane Bay community, the special tax district proposal would likely go on a referendum for voters.

Chief Stephenson says that would slow down the process.

"The question is how are we going to fund this," said Peter Kuiken, a resident in the community. 

It's a public safety concern and residents fear that someone could lose their life because of longer response times.

The fire chief says response times for fire calls in the area are nine to 11 minutes and insurance rates are high.  

Residents say the station is long overdue.

"If there's a nice windy day in the summer when it's been dry, you could lose four or five homes if the wind is in the right direction before the fire department get there."

A county wide fire study is expected to be completed by the end of the month.

The Cane Bay fire station would also have space for EMS and Sheriff Department personnel. 

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