Central Kitsap Fire seeks tax increase

“We can’t continue to do what we’re doing at the level that we’re doing it without some replacement” for an expiring levy, chief Scott Weninger said.

Facing an expiring tax levy worth $1.8 million per year, the Central Kitsap fire department is asking voters to approve a regular tax rate bump for fire services this November.

The “Lid Lift” ballot measure would increase the millage rate for fire response from 1.22 to 1.50 mills within the service district – up 28 cents for every $1,000 of property value.

If passed, a homeowner with a home value of $325,000 would pay an additional $91 per year. Currently, an equivalent homeowner pays about $692 per year to CKFR, including payments for EMS services and two additional levies approved by voters in 2015.

Fire Chief Scott Weninger said Thursday the increase was needed to address rising operating costs.

“It’s a very expensive business to start with, and it’s getting more costly every year,” he said. Weninger is in his sixth year as fire chief of the department, which serves about 70,000 residents from 10 stations across a wide swath of Kitsap County.

“Everything from personnel costs, to the supplies that we use, to the clothing that we wear, to our insurance costs – everything goes up” each year, he said.

In 2015, voters approved a temporary maintenance and operations levy worth $7.2 million that added about a quarter of a millage to area property taxes. The levy brought in $1.8 million annually to the fire department – but it’s set to expire on December 31, 2019, putting firefighters in need of additional funding sources, Weninger said.

“There will be some pretty dramatic cost reductions in the fire district” if the M&O levy isn’t replaced, he said, citing personnel, one of the department’s most significant expenses, as a possible source of cuts. CKFR currently employs 110 professionals and 42 volunteers.

“We can’t continue to do what we’re doing at the level that we’re doing it without some replacement for the M&O,” he said.

The levy will have to be approved by a majority of voters during the general election on November 6.

In the past, voters in the district have shown support for tax increases for fire services: Three years ago, 61 percent of voters approved the M&O ballot measure, and 64 percent voted for a $6.7 million apparatus and equipment bond.

The department hopes to have the measure approved in November to avoid holding a special election next year before the levy expires.

Additional funds received during 2019, during which the new levy and M&O funds would overlap, would be marked for new equipment including two medic units, a fire engine, a water tender and emergency preparedness measures, according to the department.

The annual budget of the Central Kitsap Fire and Rescue is just under $20 million.