Consultants urge city to build new fire station near Robert Smalls Parkway

Beaufort needs to build a fire station near Robert Smalls Parkway in case its rocky relationship with the Burton Fire District threatens fire service to parts of the city and Port Royal, according to a team of consultants.

Consultants from the International City/Council Management Association of Washington, D.C., presented findings from a yearlong review of the police and fire departments last week to the Beaufort City Council. The consultants were hired in April for $48,000 to examine efficiencies within the two departments.

The consultants recommended a new fire station to ensure service to areas annexed by Port Royal after 1995 and by Beaufort after 1999, including Picket Fences, Shadow Moss and the Walmart on Robert Smalls Parkway. Those areas are covered under a decade-old mutual-aid agreement between the Burton district and the city that expires in July.

"Because of past history, as well as a current litigation case, it is recommended that (Beaufort and Port Royal) position themselves to be responsible for service delivery and look to the fire district only for mutual aid when absolutely needed," according to the report.

The mutual aid agreement is at the heart of a legal battle that started in September when the Burton district threatened to end first-response service to those areas unless the municipalities paid it higher fees. The city was granted a restraining order late last year to prevent Burton from dropping those services until the two parties reach a new agreement. Those negotiations continue, according to city officials.

City manager Scott Dadson said the city probably would wait until the dispute ends before it would consider building another station.

"We have a current contractual agreement with the Burton Fire District and that area is covered by that contract, so we will hold off ... until that gets worked out," Dadson said.

Interim Beaufort Fire Chief Sammy Negron, quoted in the study as supporting the new station, declined to comment.

The Beaufort Fire Department has stations on Ribaut and Mossy Oaks roads in Beaufort and a third on Paris Avenue in Port Royal, which has had a contract with the city for fire service since 1991.

The consultants also recommended the Police Department make minor changes to its rank structure and that city officials name a permanent replacement for Wendell Wilburn, who retired in April after three decades as fire chief. Negron has served as interim fire chief since Wilburn's departure.