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SK fire district commissioners back merger

Talk surrounding South Kitsap Fire and Rescue’s potential integration with two other county fire agencies gained considerable steam Thursday night as the district’s board of commissioners officially approved moving the discussion to the next level.

“I think this is the thing to do,” said Commissioner Darla Hartley, explaining that after attending a series of meetings during which SKFR leaders carefully reviewed a feasibility study outlining the potential for a “merger” between SKFR, Central Kitsap Fire and Rescue and the Bremerton Fire Department, it was clear to her how much the work of the three agencies overlapped. “I really feel we should give this a try.”

Commissioners Dave Gelsleichter and Dusty Wiley agreed, voting to approve along with Hartley.

“I think the next natural step is to go forward,” Wiley said. “It will be a good move for us and the public to see what we can do with this.”

Citing a potential conflict of interest since he currently is a captain with the Bremerton Fire Department, Commissioner Paul Golnik abstained from the official vote, but still voiced his support for the process.

“I feel strongly that it’s a good time to move forward and put together a plan,” Golnik said. “We have spent a lot of money and a lot of time on the study, and let’s move forward and see what we can do with it.”

Senter, who along with his staff recommended moving forward to create an integration plan, clarified that Thursday’s vote was actually not approving a merger of the agencies, but approving further discussions.

“This will only mean continuing to the next step,” he said, explaining that that would entail sitting down with staff and stakeholders from the other two agencies and “seeing if we can develop a plan that would be acceptable to you all.”

Such a process would only begin once the elected boards from the other two agencies also approve it, but so far representatives from CKFR and BFD indicate their agencies are moving in the same direction as SKFR.

CKFR Chief Ken Burdette said his district’s board was expected to be voting on the process Monday, and a representative from BFD said he expected the issue to be presented to the Bremerton City Council soon.

If all three agencies agree to move forward, Senter said officials from each will begin to assemble a plan for full integration — or a “regional fire authority.” Once such a plan is created, each agency’s board will have to formally approve it, and then the final step before such an authority can be created is getting approval from the voters at an election.

Senter pointed to two examples of other fire agencies completing a similar process.

“Recently, the cities of Auburn, Algona and Pacific became the first to use the new legislation to fully integrate (into a regional fire authority), and currently the city of Centralia and Lewis County Fire District 12 plan to put their integration plan before their voters this November.”

Launched last year by CKFR and the BFD, the “feasibility study” by Emergency Services Consulting inc. (ESCi) was later expanded to include SKFR before its completion in June.

After reviewing each department’s revenue, territory and operations, ESCi determined the three are often duplicating each other’s efforts, particularly in administrative and support services, and recommended the three fully integrate into a regional fire authority.

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