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Tri-Lakes station on hold pending funding

The new Tri-Lakes dual-district fire station will have to wait until Fire District Mason 2 lines up solid funding.

After Mason 2 failed to pass a benefit assessment measure last month — a source of revenue that would have paid for Mason’s half of the shared station — Fire District 7 opted to hold off putting in its share of the money until it knew Mason could afford the project.

The final decision was made last week by district commission boards in both counties.

“We don’t know what the future cuts will be, so we’re not comfortable spending it,” said Mason 2 Fire Chief Mike Greene.

Mason 2 has frequently been hard up for money lately, thanks to Mason County’s slow growth. Because county population hasn’t been keeping up with projections, the districts that depend on property value to function have been forced to scale back their operations.

In addition to cuts taken in the last budgetary year, Mason 2 also anticipates another cut this upcoming year, when its tax revenue will likely fall from $1.24 to $1.04 per $1,000 of assessed value.

If that happens, and the money is not replaced via a second benefit assessment measure up for a vote Sept. 19, Greene said he doesn’t see any way the district will be able to afford both the new station and other things it needs, such as a new ambulance.

In addition, the district’s Medic One service will also likely get the axe.

“I don’t think people believed we were going to make the cuts,” Greene said. “I don’t think they realize the impact.”

If the measure doesn’t pass, and the existing Tri-Lakes station closes as expected in the next few months, all future fire and medic response to Tri-Lakes will come from Belfair, a good 10 or so minutes away. Fire District 7’s Gorst station, the closest station on the Kitsap County side, is at least 11 or 12 minutes away.

Mason 2 plans to buy the land for the station anyway, as an investment in the future. Greene said the district is getting such a good deal on the property, it’s worth buying know even if it takes years for the new station to be built.

He said the district is also doing as much prep work as possible, so if the measure passes in September, the station can be up in only two or three months.

“We want to get that station up as fast as possible,” Greene said.

Fire District 7 also feels its best bet is to wait and see.

“Hopefully, Mason 2 will generate some stable funding and we can go on with the project,” said Fire District 7 Chief Mike Brown. “Right now, we have no other projects (in Tri-Lakes) except the joint station.”

The proposed three-bay station, if built, will sit on West Tiger Lake Road near the center of the Tri-Lakes region in South Kitsap/North Mason counties. The entire facility, which will be a prefabricated metal building, is expected to cost $150,000, not including the price of the property. Mason 2 pledged to buy the needed land and both districts will split the cost of the building.

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