Failed levy causing issues for fire department

Just a few weeks after failing to pass a levy, South Kitsap Fire and Rescue chief Jeff Faucett said the negative impacts are already being felt by his department.

SKFR looked to lift the levy lid from $1.21 per $1,000 valuation to $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed home value, which would help address major anticipated growth in the district and need for accompanying staff and renovations to fire stations. Faucett said as the largest fire agency on the peninsula, the number of staff especially needs the increase.

“SKFR responders respond to more 911 calls than any other agency with far less personnel,” he said. “This will continue to increase response times as call volumes increase.”

In last month’s general election, SKFR fell short of passing the levy with the “No” vote prevailing by 2 1/2 points, or almost 1,000 votes. Only the SK fire proposition faced serious opposition going into the midterms and was the only proposition to have an official statement published against it. Residents complained the rate did not correspond to actual home values. Others accused SKFR of using the death of PJ’s Market owner Al Kono to campaign for the proposition, as Faucett had announced back in September the historic market would be memorialized in the building of a new station.

Faucett said the results have already put holds on a number of necessities. Had the levy passed, SKFR would have looked to increase minimum staffing from 19 to 21.

“We will have to maintain at 19,” he said, “which is below staffing standards for the number of 911 calls we receive. For example, it can take upwards of 20 minutes to respond to the south side of our district. This is unacceptable.”

Faucett said the district also will need to eliminate major capital purchases, namely funds to replace a fire engine or command vehicle in the next year. Cuts are also being made in the firefighter training program in order to operate under a balanced budget.

While it’s beyond frustrating, Faucett said there is no respect lost within the South Kitsap community and will not change the department’s dedication to protecting and serving.

“We respect the community and the decision to not restore the fire levy to the amount previously approved six years ago,” he said. “We look forward to meeting with them and discussing this more so that we can provide the level of emergency service they require.”

On the opposing side, some South Kitsap residents say this is not the same economic situation as six years ago, as inflated costs of everyday necessities and bills have risen dramatically. Particularly, rising house costs and coinciding increases in assessed home value are already hiking the amount property owners have to pay.

While a few speculated that they would have considered a smaller lid lift in comparison to the maximum, citizens such as Jason Stiffey said the cost is just too much for property owners at this time.

“It’s a tough time to ask people to shell out more money, especially in taxes,” he said.