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Given the choice between spending $3.1 million on a new fire training center or new fire substations in rural areas, we think the York County Council was correct in giving the nod to the training center.
The $3.1 million is bond money originally designated for building the substations. But since 2008, when that plan was put in place, both county officials and members of the firefighting community have raised questions about the substations.
No one disputes that advantages would arise from building the substations. First and foremost, they would bring fire protection closer to residents in the western part of the county.
In addition, adding substations would bring many homes within five miles of a fire station, which would substantially reduce the cost of insurance for those homeowners. Those outside the five-mile perimeter of a substation pay nearly twice the amount those inside the circle do.
But in some cases, the new substations would benefit only a few people. The population is so sparse in some areas that it is hard to justify the cost of building the new station.
Opponents of the substations also note that many rural fire districts already have raised money themselves and used special tax dollars to build new substations. Using bond money to build substations in other areas would be unfair.
Support clearly seems to have swung toward building a new training center that would serve all fire districts in the county. The Rural Fire Control Board, which oversees the countys 17 rural fire departments and administers money allocated by the council, asked the council to use the bond money for a training center.
A number of rural fire chiefs also have weighed in, calling for the new county training center instead of substations. They say the desire for a new training facility also is widespread among firefighters.
The county has outgrown the current training center on Ogden Road. The buildings are outdated and the offices cant accommodate fire code inspectors and arson investigators who work there. If the county chose to build a new center on that site, most of the existing facility would have to be demolished.
The county also is considering three other locations, two county-owned properties on McFarland Road west of Rock Hill and a lot owned by York Electric Cooperative on Genthe Court west of Rock Hill. One of those locations is likely to be more centrally located than the current site.
The council voted Monday on second reading to use the bond money for the training facility. One more reading is required for final approval.
Again, we think the council made the right choice. But substations might be needed in the near future, especially now that the expansion of S.C. 5 has increased the potential for growth west of York.
The county needs to anticipate where that growth will occur and develop a comprehensive plan for building new substations where they are needed. While the rural population might not justify new stations now, growth could change that picture in the years ahead.