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Fire district passes modest budget

After whittling another $430 off the proposed expenses for 2003, the Fire District 7 Board of Commissioners on Thursday night unanimously approved a $4.75 million budget.

The public hearing preceding the vote was much less energetic than the one at the commission’s Dec. 12 meeting. Although half a dozen people filled the audience chairs, only two got up to speak — and neither commented on the proposed budget.

Volunteer firefighter Scott Lucke expressed disappointment that the district’s tax levy had failed, making the proposed cuts necessary. However, he commended the district officials on doing their best to educate the public before both the primary and general elections.

South Kitsap resident Bob Lamb took a slightly different tack.

He expressed concern that the fire district announced a major capital equipment purchase — $194,000 for new air packs — right after campaigning for a tax increase on the basis of their poverty. He said such a seeming disconnect between the district’s claims and its actions made it difficult for residents such as himself, who had voted for the tax levy.

“It’s not whether you’re a crook or not — it’s about whether they think you are,” Lamb said.

In response, Fire Chief Mike Brown reminded the audience the fire district had been trying to secure grant money for the air packs for years and could not count on it ever being offered again.

The district is getting $453,000 from the federal government for the purchase of self-contained breathing apparatus. The purchase of the packs, which would replace the district’s aging, sub-standard packs, was approved at the Dec. 12 meeting.

There was also some debate over cutting funding for office courier service.

District office staff members wrote a letter to the commissioners asking for the courier service to be reinstated. Currently, the plan is to have each of the six office staffers set aside one hour a week to collect mail from the district’s post office box, sort it and make sure it’s properly delivered.

Several commissioners were concerned the extra responsibilities would become a burden on the already busy office staff.

“It just doesn’t seem cost-effective to have the office staff do this,” said Commissioner Darla Hartley.

Brown suggested other options, such as installing a mail drop-box at Station 31 so staffers would not have to make the trip to the post office. He also suggested returning to an older system, where a district volunteer took on the courier responsibilities. Brown even offered to pitch in by carrying correspondence to and from the county courthouse.

“Put it in a bag, I’ll take it down there,” he said.

In the end, the district agreed to let Brown work out a plan for compensating for the lost courier service. However, they plan to review the solution at the end of the first quarter to make sure the adjustment is going smoothly.

Volunteer firefighter benefits also had its funding cut as proposed at the Dec. 12 meeting. The benefit program itself has not been cut, however, and will be discussed at the district’s next all-staff retreat, scheduled for January.

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