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Fire fund fight: Fire chiefs rally against single county official

  • Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Lindsay Street/Independent Fire trucks parked outside the county's administration building Monday as fire chiefs alleged a county council official has stymied funding.

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There’s a “they said, he said” going on in the county as Berkeley County fire chiefs claim a council member has “crippled” and “derailed” efforts of the Fire Tax Advisory Board to fund departments.

It’s a claim that the council member denies and calls a case of misunderstanding rooted in county politics.

During the May 27 regular meeting of council in Moncks Corner, scores of firetrucks and firefighters descended onto council chambers.

The fire chiefs pointed the finger at County Councilman and Public Safety Committee Chair Ken Gunn.

“His meddling … created an unpleasant working relationship between the (Fire) Tax Advisory Board and the Fire Chiefs,” Berkeley County Fire Chief’s Association President Scott Lee wrote in a letter given to council at the meeting. “His influence guided a majority of members in an unnatural direction, derailing and crippling the efforts of the Chairman of the Fire Tax Advisory Board.”

The letter claims Gunn has influenced the board on funding requests, which will “cripple” the county’s training center’s ability to provide training facilities, and also claims Gunn has been behind a push to abolish local district fire boards, which “ensure” adequate fire protection.

Gunn — who denied any problem other than a political problem — told The Independent that much of the debate is over a new policy that requires departments to submit a page application for shared funds.

According to Gunn, the advisory board helps with assigning a pool of money from a portion of the $70 fee paid for per house for fire service in the money. Of that fee, $5 goes to a pool.

Most of that money is used to bring funds for the 10 poorest rural fire departments up to $50,000. Whatever is left over is available for departments to submit applications to receive.

The applications are new to the process, Gunn said. He said only one department has filled out a request for funds and that was granted. He said the board has not received any other applications.

“They don’t like to have anything changed, I guess. All that we’re asking is, we start having some records on this stuff,” Gunn said. “We have just been spending money with them and we really have no records to show where it went.”

He later added in an email to reporters that the lacking records he referred to was requests and approval documents and minutes from the fire board meetings.

“This claim that we’re holding funds? We’ve had no applications for funds. All they have to do is fill out a piece of paper and ask for them.”

Lee’s letter also said Gunn’s influence caused three members of the board to resign. Gunn said the fire chiefs are mistaken in their allegations.

“It is confusion or lack of understanding on their part,” Gunn said. He added that all three board members who have resigned had “valid reasons” and none of those reasons were due to him influencing the board.

Gunn called the fight pure politics. Gunn votes with the council majority, which opposes the minority vote held by Supervisor Dan Davis. Tensions and allegations between the factions have been commonplace.

“I’m not running for office. Is there political stuff going on? Yes. Someone else is running for office,” Gunn said, but he would not speak on record about who is behind the allegations.

In response to the claims, Gunn has called a special meeting of council Monday, June 9.

“If (the fire chiefs) feel that way, OK, fine, we’ll get to the root cause of it,” Gunn said. “The council members can deal with it and we can address each issue in a public open forum.”

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