SK voters hold key to maintaining fire services | Wright

Fire Chief Steve Wright

By STEVE WRIGHT

Fire Chief, South Kitsap Fire and Rescue

Over next two weeks, South Kitsap voters will be asked to decide on Proposition 1, a Fire and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) levy renewal and lid lift for their fire district.

South Kitsap Fire and Rescue (SKFR) has placed Proposition 1 on the Aug. 1 ballot in an effort to renew its base funding levy for six more years. The fire district is asking voters to renew this levy, which has been in place for many years and lift the taxation lid back to the allowable cap of $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

This is not a new tax, but it does reflect an increase to the rate currently in place. Why does SKFR need the money? As fire chief, I thought I would write a column to help explain the situation the fire district is facing.

Over recent years, SKFR’s call volume has grown while our workforce has been reduced, leading to a lower level of service with longer response times across the community. Three years ago, SKFR made some difficult decisions that included reducing career staff by 12 firefighter/EMTs, closing three fire stations and modifying staff deployments.

As fire chief, since this reduction took place, I have been asked numerous times, “When or how do we get these firefighters back?” My answer to this question has always been the same — we will ask the voters this question at our next levy renewal. That time is now.

SKFR is a combination fire district serving the greater South Kitsap area with a workforce of 72 career firefighter/EMTs, paramedics and about 50 volunteer firefighters and support staff. We are the largest and busiest fire district on the Kitsap Peninsula. In 2016, we responded to 9,580 calls from 911 — an average of over 26 per day. This year, we are on track to break 10,000 calls for the first time in Kitsap County history.

Our community continues to see consistent growth that brings increasing demands on the fire district, yet in recent years we have not been able to keep pace with this growth and increasing call volume.

There are many times each day that the fire stations are empty with the crews already on calls when another 911 call comes in. It’s gotten to the point where you don’t want to be the second person in your neighborhood to call 911.

This levy renewal is the opportunity for SKFR to restore the taxation lid back to the allowable cap of $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value. It will generate the revenue needed to hire firefighters and restaff two of the fire stations that were unstaffed in 2014. This will provide additional response units and help keep crews in their home area a greater percentage of the time. It will help lower our response times to emergency calls.

As your fire chief, I have an obligation to present this levy renewal and lid lift to the voters. I fully recognize that it is the citizens who establish the level of fire and EMS services they have in their community by their willingness to fund it. My goal is to inform the citizens of the challenges their fire district is facing and the impacts of growth on our response.

Much of this levy renewal is the current Fire/EMS levy rate that citizens are paying today. The estimated yearly increase to restore the levy back to $1.50 for a median-priced South Kitsap home would be about a $5 per month, or a $60 per year increase, in fire/EMS taxes. It will allow SKFR to restaff the stations located on Banner and Glenwood roads.

If you have questions, please contact me at swright@skfr.org or by phone at 360-535-2002.