Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Some residents on the Waccamaw Neck are willing to pay higher taxes if it means an increase in pay for workers at Midway Fire Rescue.
That is a message Dr. Morgan Lowry delivered to Georgetown County Council last week. She said there is a discrepancy in pay between Midway and the salaries received by firefighters and EMS workers in surrounding counties.
Lowry said she began to question the pay received by Midway workers after a fire call at her home.
“They are drastically underpaid. We are losing highly trained firefighters and paramedics to other areas,” Lowry told Council. In a letter to Council, Lowry — who says she interacts with Midway workers regularly because of her job at Waccamaw Community Hospital — noted many of the workers “are paid wages just above the poverty level.”
“I have grave concerns about this, not only on a logistical level, but also on a moral level,” she wrote. “My concern is that to do this by underpaying these men and women is short sighted.”
Lowry said the workers should be paid at least $33,500 annually, comparable to other area fire departments.
If this does not happen, Lowry says Midway “will lose highly trained, dedicated professionals who have committed their lives to the safety and survival of all of us.”
“We are all paid commensurate with our training, education, and risk accepted as a part of our jobs. To not acknowledge the tremendous risk that these men and women accept each and every day on behalf of us is unacceptable,” she wrote in her letter.
Last week, Lowry presented Council with petitions she has circulated asking if residents would be support a tax increase if the money was used to boost pay within the department. At that time the petitions contained about 100 signatures. She said those who have signed agreed to a tax increase “in the event money cannot be found by other means.”
In a response letter, County Councilman Jerry Oakley said Council is “aware of the problem and there are ongoing efforts to address it in the next budget cycle.”
Oakley said he has been working with the Midway Board for the past few months on the salary issue.
“As with so many other things in this world, this issue is not nearly as simple as it might appear to be,” Oakley wrote. He notes the operational costs for Midway are funded by means of millage imposed solely within the boundaries of “The Midway Special Tax District”, which was established by the residents of the Waccamaw Neck long ago.
He said pay hikes can be achieved in three ways:
n An increase in the total assessed value of all taxable property within the district which raises the revenue stream.
n Cuts in other Midway operational costs redeploying the funds to salaries,
n An increase in the millage rate within the “Midway Special Tax District.”
He said the first option is the preferable solution.
“The decline of property values experienced in the most recent reassessment is the reason for the problem. Increasing property values will solve the problem, but projections do not indicate increased values sufficient to solve the problem at hand for three years minimum,” Oakley responded. “All I can tell you at this point is we are very aware and we are very concerned. I wish it were as simple as ‘voting to increase MFR pay rates,’ but it is not.”
He also said pay discrepancy is not only a problem with Midway Fire but also with Georgetown County Fire and with the Sheriff’s Office.
“When we get to budget in May, if Council is told by the MFR Board that every line item in the MFR operating budget has been examined and all possible savings which could be diverted to salaries identified, but they are still short of what is needed to provide reasonable and appropriate pay increases, and The Board then asks Council to raise the millage rate for “The Midway Special Tax District” sufficiently to cover the shortfall, then I plan to vigorously support their request and vote in favor,” Oakley wrote.
By Scott Harper