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Chief: 'Service is going to get worse'

Although South Kitsap Voters failed to approve a levy lid lift to increase funding for Kitsap County Fire District 7 for the second time in two years, outgoing Chief Mike Brown said it’s a blow the district will have to absorb and keep moving forward.

“We can’t stop doing what is right,” Brown said. “We’re very disappointed, but we were prepared.”

If passed, the 10-cent lid lift on the property-tax levy would have allowed the district to hire up to 15 additional firefighters/emergency medical technicians, a staffing increase Brown said is crucial if his department is to keep pace with a steady increase in call volumes and area population.

Brown said the district has hired no new personnel since 2000, while emergency calls have increased by 17 percent of the past four years to 8,400 in 2003.

To handle the influx of calls, he said, last year his department called for assistance from nearby fire districts 340 times — which is three to six times more than other departments.

“We’ve almost worn out our welcome,” he said.

When his department does respond, Brown said it takes them longer.

Five or six years ago, Brown said, the response time for his department was consistently five minutes, which he said makes a big difference in both saving lives and homes.

Now, Brown said, the district response time averages 7.5 minutes, which he said was “not acceptable.”

Unfortunately, Brown said now that the increased funding was rejected by voters, “our service is going to get worse.

“Inevitably, we will have to lay off staff,” Brown said, explaining that the district’s budget cannot keep up with salary increases and cost of living increases.

Currently, Brown said there is no reduction of staff in the draft budget he has prepared and expects to present to the district’s Board of Commissioners at the Nov. 22 meeting.

“There are no significant cuts in programs or staffing in (next year’s budget),” he said, which he explained was due in large part to the “aggressive financial constraint” his department implemented two years ago when the last levy failed.

Brown said his staff reduced travel and training costs, eliminated volunteer meetings and now performs duties like cleaning their offices and distributing mail themselves to save money.

“We’ve made all the possible program changes to deal with the budget reductions, and we can’t do anything else but cut staff,” he said.

Brown projected that by 2005 or ’06, after current Assistant Chief Wayne Senter takes over as chief Jan. 1, the district will have to face making cuts to either staff or programs.

“The board will have to make some decisions over this next year,” Brown said, adding that he hoped the new administration could also count on the community’s support.

“Truly, to provide services, we need the support of the community,“ Brown said, adding that he hoped the district could find ways to get their message across to more voters.

“The people we contact, they vote ’yes,’ ” he said. “But we only reach about 5,000 out of 30,000. We need to reach the rest.”

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