Georgetown County Council is currently wrestling with funding for the upcoming budget. With the current South Carolina Act 388 in place, council's options are limited.
The Waccamaw Neck is growing, the county as a whole is not, therefore council cannot get additional funding. Other neighboring counties are attempting to use the accommodation and hospitality taxes to cover some of their short falls.
With that said and knowing how tight funding is, we on the Neck have a service problem. Last year, County Council rightly increased the salaries of the Sheriff's Office by 10 percent, indicating they would address other first responders in this upcoming budget.
According to press reports, there is a proposed 2.5 percent salary increase for all county employees. Firefighters, EMTs and paramedics are not like other employees and should not be lumped in with them. It means the person cutting the grass at the sports field is on the same par with a paramedic. Midway Fire Rescue is suffering with vacancies and a turnover rate that is equally as bad.
Midway currently has four vacancies. We recently lost two firefighters to the Sheriff's Office because of the salary differential. Firefighters, including EMTs and paramedics, come with lots of training, are costly to hire, equip and, unlike most county employees, must be recertified annually.
We on the Neck pride ourselves with one of the best trained, best equipped fire departments in the area. Midway fire responds to fires, medical emergencies, water rescues both in the ocean and the river, auto accidents and hazmat incidents, and each employee undergoes constant training to be able to respond to these calls. This makes them the target of other departments that are expanding and that pay higher salaries.
If we are to maintain the standard Midway has set for itself and is demanded by our residents we must adequately reimburse those providing these critical services.
To give you some idea of the dilemma, Midway pays a starting firefighter $32,800, a firefighter/EMT earns $36,212 and a paramedic receives $44,120, but they receive no longevity pay, no merit raises, a $100 annual bonus, no reimbursement for tuition and no holiday pay. A firefighter starting today at Midway makes the same salary as one who has been with the department for over five years. The competing fire departments pay most if not all of the above benefits.
For example, Conway pays longevity pay starting at five years and goes from $500 a year to $1,000 a year after 15 years. North Myrtle Beach pays an employee 5 percent of their salary every five years. Georgetown City Fire pays 0.5 percent in the first to fifth year and upwards to 3 percent after 25 years. Horry County gives a 1 to 5 percent merit raise annually.
All departments surveyed give annual bonuses in excess of Midway. Myrtle Beach gives one-weeks pay as a holiday bonus.
I could go on, but you get the picture.
In addition to falling behind in pay, Midway has not had an increase in EMS coverage since 2006. The call rate, especially for medical responses, has doubled since that time. For Midway to be adequately staffed to meet the current volume of calls, we would need an additional nine firefighters/EMT or paramedics.
County officials say if they give us the positions, we could not fill them. And the response is we could fill them if the pay/benefit package was competitive. Council has to decide what the county's priorities are: health and safety, or swimming pools. In the one-cent sales tax, the Waccamaw Neck did not receive anything, yet think of the one-cent tax revenue generated by those residing in or visiting our area. In addition, the Neck makes up more than 70 percent of the total tax revenue for the county.
We should be receiving our fair share.
We ask each of you reading this letter to contact your County Council member and demand salary increases for the hardworking, dedicated men and women of Midway Fire Rescue and for additional personnel to meet current demands.
Midway Fire Rescue Board
Richard C. Faulk, chairman