Bluffton residents may see tax hike if 24 firefighters are added - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Bluffton residents may see tax hike if firefighters are added

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Would you be willing to pay for someone else's fire coverage?

Bluffton hopes to hire 24 new firefighters to alleviate a rise in homeowners insurance premiums in two private communities.

One homeowner says if Bluffton wants growth, they need to help pay for the costs that come with it.

The Bluffton Township Fire District has proposed hiring two dozen new firefighters to staff stations in Palmetto Bluff and Colleton River, after those communities' insurance-risk ratings rose sharply.

After that, homeowners insurance premiums rose as well.

Fire Chief Barry Turner says the ISO rating is not related to response times or the departments capabilities.

"We were advised in January of 2012 that insurance rates were going to change in Colleton River and Palmetto Bluff from a rating of 3 to 10, a higher classification rating," said Chief Turner. "The reason was there was unmanned fire stations. At the current time, ISO doesn't recognize them as responding fire stations, therefore it went from a rating of 3 to a 10."

The total cost for the rest of fiscal year 2013 would be just over half a million dollars, and the ongoing costs likely would be about $1.3 million a year.

That could mean a tax increase for everyone in the greater Bluffton area, even those outside the two gated communities. One homeowner says it is the cost of growth.

"If residents want to continue to expand the community, which in the long run will have more people to share the tax burden, to pay for the schools, to enhance the features of the community, then you have to pay for that," said Bluffton Resident Jim Hooker. "There is no free lunch. Everybody has to bear that responsibility."

Details on the increase won't be available until the plan and the county's property tax reassessment that takes effect next year are completed.

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