PO City Council supports fire levy lid lift

The Port Orchard City Council voted on Monday to back South Kitsap Fire and Rescue’s latest attempt to raise the amount of tax money it can collect from residents.

“I’m one of these people you have to convince to raise taxes, but (the fire district) has presented such a well-prepared, reasoned proposal,” said Council member Rita DiIenno. “I applaud (them).”

“I appreciate (when groups) that need funding go to the voters and ask for it,” said Councilman John Clauson. “And the (fire district) is making sure to ask for exactly what they need and not more.”

In two months, SKF&R will ask voters to temporarily raise the levy lid on property tax collection by 14 cents per $1,000 of home value, an amount Chief Wayne Senter said is needed to hire nine additional firefighter/Emergency Medical Technicians(EMTs).

Set to expire in 2013 if approved, Senter said the lid lift will add $794,877 annually to his budget, which will be used solely to cover the staff members’ salaries.

Although the district was approved last year to receive a federal grant — known as the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) — that would pay a portion of each new firefighter er/EMT’s salary for four years, Senter said he was asking voters for the full amount in case the funding falls through.

Clauson said that he understood why the district needs to hire additional staff, explaining that the area’s “population is not only growing, it’s growing older.”

After supportive comments from the remaining council members present — Bob Geiger and Rick Wyatt were absent — the board voted unanimously to support the ballot measure.

The vote followed a public hearing, during which Deputy Chief Dan Olson and about 10 citizens addressed the council.

“Our population is growing and those people are generating calls,” Olson said, explaining that SKF&R’s response time to 90 percent of calls is at least 10 minutes. “That is pretty serious when you’re talking about heart attacks.”

The majority of residents who spoke favored passing the levy lid lift, including Roger Hershey, who identified himself as a Federal Way resident and a fire commissioner for South King (County) Fire and Rescue.

“I am a homeowner here and plan on moving here soon,” Hershey said. “I really encourage you to support this issue.”

Tom Meyers, who described himself as a lifetime resident and a business owner, said he normally does not support tax increases, “but (the fire district) is a well-run department and a wise investment. I whole-heartedly support them.”

SKF&R’s temporary lid lift measure will go before voters on May 16.

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