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IL fire district public hearing draws crowd

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Protesters, supporters speak out on Nov. 30

By Chris Sardelli

Dan Jackson doesn’t understand the need for an Indian Land Fire Protection District.
Jackson, a Charlotte Highway resident whose family has lived in the same area for more than 150 years, told Lancaster County Council last week he was worried about the idea of creating a unified district.
“I haven’t been one way or another about big companies coming in here,” Jackson said. “But if we pack more people in here, there’s more of a chance of fires.”
And with greater chances of fires, Jackson said it should fall on the residents of each particular neighborhood to institute and pay a special tax to fund the fire departments.
“I don’t feel people on a fixed income should have to pay for this,” he said. “I still think if you pack more people in, and have houses that are rooftop to rooftop, half of them could burn down if there is a fire. I think it should be the responsibility of each community and the tax should be right there.”
Jackson was one of several people to speak during a public hearing at County Council’s Nov. 30 meeting about the creation of a potential special tax district in Indian Land.
The idea was introduced by members of grass-roots organization Indian Land Action Council as a way to generate revenue for the Indian Land Volunteer Fire Department.  
Several of its members also spoke during the hearing.
A unified district could require a special tax from all property owners in the area, including businesses and homes.
J.R. Wilt, who lives along S.C. 5, was also against creating the new district. Wilt has spoken at several council meetings hoping to dissuade council from moving forward with the process.
“This is being made in a time of financial distress,” Wilt said. “The tax seems to be for more than the need it’s supposed to meet.”
He suggests the needed funds could come from private fundraising and modification of fees in current tax districts.
“I think there’s confusion between can’t be done and don’t know how to do it,” he said.
But not everyone who attended the hearing was against the idea.
Belair resident Dennis Patti, who’s lived in the area for more than three years, supports the new district as a way to ensure firefighters have the equipment they need to fight fires. He said a special tax should be levied on everyone in the Indian Land area.
“I plead with you that you move forward with the fire district and spread the wealth to everyone in the fire district so everyone can contribute,” Patti said. “Since I’ve lived here, we’ve grown considerably. Growth brings additional opportunities and challenges. Why shouldn’t we all contribute to ensure that we all have proper fire protection?”
Jan Tacy and Jane Tanner, both members of ILAC, lent their support to the district’s creation during the hearing.
Tacy said it should be modeled after the Pleasant Valley Fire District.
“Pleasant Valley has already shown this is the way to meet the needs of the community,” Tacy said.
She said the district is necessary in order to meet the growing needs of the community.
“I just read that we have a Publix (supermarket) coming and that’s a big store, which will bring more traffic,” she said. “This means more accidents and more responses from the fire departments. They need the equipment and they need to grow.”
As president of ILAC, Tanner asked council to support the idea to help her community.
“I support it because I’ve seen what the tax has done and what can be done from a $75 tax,” Tanner said. “I’m on a fixed income, but $75 a year to know someone will be there if you need help is important to me. And unlike other taxes, we know exactly where this money goes. I feel it’s important to have this.”
Council did not vote on the issue at last week’s meeting, but previously approved holding a nonbinding advisory referendum, where the public can vote on the issue.
Indian Land voters will have until Dec. 18 to register to vote in the special election for the referendum, which will be Jan. 18.
In the meantime, council plans to hear first reading on an ordinance to create the new district during its first meeting in January.
If the referendum passes, council will move forward with ordinances to create the district, as well as to rescind special tax districts already in place in the neighborhoods of Belair, Edenmoor and Sun City Carolina Lakes.

Fire protection district  Q&A open house
Two informational Q&A open house meetings on the proposed Indian Land Fire Protection District are scheduled at the Del Webb Library meeting room, one in the afternoon and one in the evening: Dec. 16, 1:30-4:30 p.m.; and Jan. 6, 6:30-8:30 p.m. If you have questions about the proposed Indian Land Fire Protection District, this is the time to get answers.

Contact reporter Chris Sardelli at csardelli@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 416-8416