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Orangeburg County Council may expand the county’s fire district in a move that could allow the Orangeburg Department of Public Safety to get paid for fighting fires outside the city limits.

Orangeburg County Council is preparing to expand the county’s fire district to an area around the city of Orangeburg, allowing the county to tax those residents for fire service.

Residents near the city, but outside the city limits, are supposed to pay the City of Orangeburg if they want fire protection. Many don’t. Once the county starts taxing residents in the area, it can pay the city to provide fire service.

"Our goal is to contract with the city," Orangeburg County Administrator Harold Young said. "It is my intention and county council’s intention is to come up with an agreement that is workable with the city because that is what is best for the citizens."

Young said the city still needs to agree to a contract with the county. Additional meetings between the county and city are planned for the near future.

Orangeburg County Council gave first reading Monday to an ordinance expanding the Orangeburg County Fire District's lines to Orangeburg's city limits to help create the framework for the proposal.

Under the proposal, the county intends to contract with the City of Orangeburg so the city's fire department continues to be responsible for fighting fires within a five-mile radius outside of the city limits.

Residents within this five-mile radius of the city will be taxed at the same rate as the others in the Orangeburg County Fire District: 18 mills. City residents will not be placed in the district and will not have extra taxes under the plan.

County Councilman Harry Wimberly stressed the county desires to work with the city, but questioned what happens if a contract is not signed with the city.

"How are those people going to get fire coverage?" Wimberly said. "We don't have the manpower, the stations and equipment to service it if we can't work it out with the city."

Orangeburg County Fire District Director Teddy Wolfe said the city's Department of Public Safety has agreed with the proposed new service area and he expects the two to come to an agreement.

Wolfe said if the city does not agree, "I am working on both sides of it whether we do with a contract with the city or have plans in place to take care of it ourselves."

Young said contracting with the city to provide fire services within five miles of the city limits is really the better way. Residents will get better Insurance Service Office ratings and lower insurance premiums under the city's fire protection.

County attorney D'Anne Haydel said the entire ordinance is contingent upon the city entering into a contract with the county.

Orangeburg City Administrator John Yow said talks are underway with the county but, “We have not reached any written agreements.”

"We have discussed releasing those areas," Yow said. "The general consensus of city council is to work out the details that will be beneficial to the person in our service area and to the city as an entity and to bring forth a document for both councils to consider."

Currently, residents living outside the city limits need to buy a fire contract for coverage if they live in the city’s fire service area.

The fire contract fee helps the Orangeburg Department of Public Safety recoup some of the costs of fighting fires, since it doesn’t receive tax revenue from residents outside of the city. City residents don’t have to buy a fire contract.

Not everyone purchases a fire contract.

The number of people purchasing fire contracts outside of the city has fallen by 14 percent since 2014.

Because so few people buy fire contracts, the cost of the contracts has risen. The city's fire service has also fallen short in funding its operations.

The city will respond to calls from residents who do not buy fire contracts, but they do not benefit from the city's Class 2 Insurance Service Office rating. The low rating means ISO believes ODPS provides good fire service, and is reflected in lower home insurance costs for residents.

In addition to eliminating the need for residents to have a fire contract, the county’s proposal would also capture homeowners who live slightly outside the five-mile radius of the city's fire service coverage area.

These residents will be served by the county’s volunteer fire departments.

Many of these residents who live a little more than five miles outside the city limits currently have a Class 10 Insurance Service Office rating. To an insurance company, that basically means the home does not have fire coverage.

The new district lines in the majority of cases will allow homeowners to receive an ISO rating of the county fire department they are the closest to. This could mean an improvement in ISO ratings from a Class 10 to an ISO of 4 or 5.

In a few cases, the new district lines will place homeowners into an area with a worse ISO rating. The reason is because the new service lines are also drawn according to natural boundaries such as streams and rivers.

Homeowners who move from an ISO rating of 10 to 4 could see home insurance costs fall about $1,000 per home while those who will see their ISO increase from 2 to 4 would could see a $20 to $40 increase.

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Contact the writer: gzaleski@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5551. Check out Zaleski on Twitter at @ZaleskiTD.

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Staff Writer

Gene Zaleski is a reporter/staff writer with The Times and Democrat.

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