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Fire District 7 to take another try at lid lift

The Fire District 7 Board of Commis-sioners on Thursday reluctantly decided to put a property tax levy lid lift request on the general election ballot this November.

Although the commissioners emphasized they believe the district badly needs the extra 10 cents per $1,000 the levy would bring in, many had doubts the voters would agree with them.

Commissioner Rick Metzger, in particular, said he would lobby hard to make the levy request a package deal in which the district pledged to reallocate its resources at the same time it was asking for more money. The reallocation Metzger had in mind involved moving firefighters from lower-use stations in rural South Kitsap to busier stations near population centers.

The lid lift is expected to pay the salaries for six additional firefighters, who would help staff the district’s two Port Orchard stations.

“Less than 50 percent of the time is a station responding to its own area,” Metzger pointed out. “I don’t think (extra) staffing alone is going to solve the issue.”

Commissioner Darla Hartley said it might not matter how the district presents its request; in the end, residents may simply vote by the thickness of their wallets.

The same rising costs that have plagued the district — gas, electricity, etc. — have also put a strain on South Kitsap households, she pointed out. Even though an extra 10 cents per $1,000 would translate into an extra $20 in annual property taxes for a $200,000 home, Hartley said, any additional tax burden may be too much for some people to bear.

In response, Fire Chief Mike Brown said he planned on emphasizing the likely impact a levy failure would have on area fire insurance rates.

Brown said if the district doesn’t find a way to keep up with increasing call volumes, its protection rating will change to reflect the lower standard of service. When that happens, he said, household fire insurance rates will go up between $60 and $100-plus per year.

Individual changes would vary based on location and insurance company — Brown encouraged the commissioners to call their companies to find out how much their rates would change.

By offsetting the cost of the lid lift against the cost of higher insurance rates, he said, the district might be able to sell the levy as an investment, rather than a charitable donation.

The other option, Brown continued, would be to simply rearrange district staff, convert some staffed stations to volunteer stations and let the insurance rates go up. He said he didn’t want to go that route because fire district ratings take up to five years to get changed in a positive direction — rating reductions happen almost immediately, Brown said.

Fire district attorney Rick Gross agreed that using the “stick” approach would probably not go over well.

“I don’t think the public likes to listen to threats,” Gross said. “I think they’ve heard that from the school district too often.”

The commissioners voted unanimously to try Brown’s plan. They did not decide what changes would have to be made if the levy didn’t pass, although rearranging staff seemed to be a favorite option.

The lid lift will cost an estimated $10,000 to place on the ballot. Brown said this year’s request will be a one-shot deal — if the voters don’t approve the lid lift in November, it won’t be placed on a later ballot.

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