Fire merger still set for November ballot

This is a very important year for the West Sound Fire & Rescue (WSFR) planning and steering committees, who are trying to create a comprehensive blueprint by April for how three fire districts will successfully merge.

WSFR’s planning committee met Tuesday afternoon in Bremerton, and thoughs have been pushed forward, officials from South Kitsap Fire and Rescue, Central Kitsap Fire and Rescue and the Bremerton Fire Department are still confident the plan will be on the November ballot.

“I’m optimistic that we’re going to pass this in November,” said Dave Fergus, CKFR commissioner and WSFR planning committee chair.

Representatives from all three fire districts spent a good portion of Tuesday’s meeting discussing the finance options for WSFR.

Financial consultant Bill Cushman created a financial planning model, known as the Cushman model, so fire personnel can plug in data and get a picture of how the potential regional fire authority will be funded.

“This is one of the most complex things we’re doing,” SKFR Chief Wayne Senter said, explaining that the planners must make assumptions about how much tax revenue they will collect and how much they will need. “Then we all have to agree that that is a reasonable assumption.”

Planning committee members also showed concern for WSFR’s transitional funding at the meeting.

The three fire agencies might keep their funds separate when WSFR is potentially formed. Senter said it may take some time to meld all the funds together.

“This is really an important issue,” Fergus said.

Planning committee members said the permanent WSFR governance board cannot take effect until WSFR funding is secured, making the financial aspect of the potential regional fire authority even more of a priority.

“Everything ends up hinging on that date the funding is in place,” Fergus said.

The WSFR timeline was adjusted at Tuesday’s meeting, with deadlines for both the finances recommendation and overall work plan extended to the end of February and the end of March, respectively.

Senter said this did not extend the overall timeframe, but simply cuts some time where fire personnel could be getting the word out and educating the voting public about WSFR before the November election.

“This was too much work to get done by the end of February,” he said. “This will be a plan for how the three agencies will come together and work, and will b a legal document the voters will vote on. We wanted to give people the time they need to make sure the product is quality.”

“We want a good product we can stand behind,” Fergus said.

The next WSFR planning committee meeting is from 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 20 at the Kitsap Readiness Center in Bremerton. The public is invited to attend.

Port Orchard Independent staff writer Justine Frederiksen contributed to this report.

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