Federal grants OK’d for fire departments

Future funding debated

Volunteer and city fire departments across Anderson County will get new grants from the federal government, but the County Commission is still debating how to keep the departments funded.

The grants total $330,000, but will be divided evenly among volunteer fire departments, city fire departments and the Anderson County Emergency and Rescue Squad.

They come from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

The departments won’t be seeing these funds until the budget for the 2024-25 fiscal year goes into effect July 1.

The County Commission approved allocation of the money during its May 20 meeting in a 14-2 vote.

Commissioner Sabra Beauchamp made the motion, and Commissioner Robert Smallridge seconded. The two dissenting votes came from Commissioners Phil Yager and Denise Palmer.

Commission Chairman Tyler Mayes said the departments could use the funds as they saw fit for capital improvements and supplies.

Commissioner Tim Isbel, even though he voted for using the funds, said he was worried about using a one-time federal funding for the departments’ recurring expenses.

“This is not going away, and the need is ever growing,” Mayes said, agreeing with Isbel’s concern. He discussed future funding, including using sales tax revenue and having a public safety fee to be included on utility bills in the county’s rural areas.

“I’m not even going to use the word tax,” Mayes said regarding this possible fee. “I know that some are against this because it may hurt. It could hurt fundraising,” he said of the proposal.

Palmer cited these concerns from Mayes as a reason for voting against the measure.

“It’s not going away, like you said, and we still need to have more discussion,” she said. “I would like to see that happen before we just put on a Band-Aid or just give one-time money from the ARP funds.”

Commissioner Shain Vowell, however, said the county’s Fire Commission had already discussed the measure and approved using the federal funds.

Commissioner Tracy Wandell, who serves on the Fire Commission along with Beauchamp, agreed. He said he’d hoped to have the fire departments funded by sports betting taxes, but has learned isn’t doable.

“This is ARP money, and this is money that the government, the federal government, gave us to take care of our communities,” Wandell said. “It’s not the taxpayers’ dollars, it’s the federal dollars that we get to use.”

Separately, the commission approved $8,600 in state and federal funds for updating debris plans and hazard mitigation, flood mitigation and grant assistance related to those updates.