As chief of Cowee Volunteer Fire / Rescue, I would like to bring to light some false statements that were made by Commissioner Paul Higdon in the Friday, June 6, 2014, edition of The Franklin Press. Commissioner Higdon stated that, “It seems ridiculous that people in Cowee pay the highest fire tax and have a department with a ISO rating of 9.” A little research on Higdon’s part would have prevented this erroneous statement. As chief, it is my duty to oversee our organization and to ensure that our citizens and our citizens’ property are protected in the event of fire or any other emergency. Our ISO rating is in fact a Class 7 and has been since 2004.
There are 11 fire districts in Macon County. Each district’s valuation is different; therefore, fire tax rates must vary between districts. Of the 11 fire districts in Macon County, Cowee’s valuation is ranked eighth. This means there are seven districts with higher tax valuations and three with lower tax valuations. We operate on a budget that is ranked fifth in the county compared to the other volunteer fire departments. We are fortunate that our district has not grown as rapidly in building structures as some of the others and that we still have a large amount of farm land and US Forest Service land still intact. Cowee’s district is one of the largest in the county at 50+ square miles of land area and a population of 3,018. Our department began in 1991 and we were the first department to build a substation in 1997. We have 45 volunteers, nine junior firefighters and one full-time firefighter. These men and women selflessly volunteer their time and energy to help make their community safer. Our department is in the process of constructing a third station which will hopefully allow us to lower the ISO rating from Class 7 to Class 6.
I hope that in the future Commissioner Higdon will research his facts before making false statements about our fire department or any other fire department in the county. We appreciate the leaders of our county who support the volunteer fire departments and who show their respect by trusting us to serve and protect. You never know when it could be your life or your property that needs the services of these trained volunteers.
Dustin Pendergrass, Chief
Cowee Volunteer Fire/Rescue