A decision on expanding fire service to a growing corridor of Beaufort and Port Royal was postponed after the legality of the meeting was questioned Wednesday.
The city of Beaufort and town of Port Royal could be adding fire service along a growing stretch of Robert Smalls Parkway, including adding a new fire station.
Council members for both municipalities met Wednesday night at Beaufort City Hall for possible votes on an amended service agreement between the city and town and to allow administrators to move forward with a lease for a new fire station on Robert Smalls.
Port Royal resident Joseph Dunkle spoke after a motion was brought to approve the new service agreement, noted the agenda had not been posted to the city or town’s websites and questioned whether the gathering was legal under state open-meetings law.
The S.C. Freedom of Information Act requires public bodies post agendas at the meeting place and on their websites at least 24 hours before the meeting. Council members agreed to reschedule the meeting for 6 p.m. Monday at City Hall.
Dunkle, a certified paramedic and firefighter who also serves on the Beaufort County school board, asked that the public have a week to review the new service agreement before it is approved.
“This seems very fast and loose,” said Dunkle, who said he learned of the meeting after reading about it on The Beaufort Gazette and The Island Packet website Wednesday morning.
City manager Bill Prokop and Port Royal town manager Van Willis said copies of the agenda had been posted at their respective government buildings and were included in Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling’s newsletter and Port Royal’s weekly newsletter. But the agendas had not been posted to either municipality’s website, though Port Royal links to the town newsletter.
The proposal for a new station and additional firefighters would address a growing area that includes new homes being built in the Shadow Moss community, a new apartment complex at Savannah Highway and S.C. 170 and new commercial developments on city property.
The area is currently served by a contract with Burton Fire District, an agreement set to expire at the end of the year. City and town officials are proposing a mutual aid agreement under which the closest station responds to a call first instead of a contract based on jurisdictional boundaries.
“Any increase in fire service is a win-win for the people,” Beaufort-Port Royal Fire Chief Reece Bertholf said.
The new service plan would begin in January 2018.
A 2009 study showed the department would be best served with four stations versus its current three facilities, Bertholf noted in a presentation before the meeting was postponed. The recommendation was updated in 2016 and included the same findings, including the need for a facility near the intersection of Robert Smalls and Castle Rock Road.
A developer would build the fire station and lease it to the city and town over 30 years.
The cost with a new station would be about $120,000 more in the upcoming fiscal year for the city and about $140,000 more for the town of Port Royal than the cost without a new station, according to an analysis by city finance director Kathy Todd. The final payment to Burton would fall during the upcoming fiscal year.
Then during the 2019 fiscal year, the city’s cost is projected to be $337,430 less than without a new station.
“With a new station, the overall costs begin to drop,” Todd said.
Beaufort and Port Royal have long operated under an agreement to share fire service.
The department moved into a new station on Ribaut Road near Mossy Oaks at the end of 2015. That building replaced an older facility on Mossy Oaks Road.
Its other stations include fire headquarters on Ribaut Road and Port Royal Fire Department on Paris Avenue.