Fire district will try again to pass levy lift next May

Following the failure of two consecutive levy lid lifts, South Kitsap Fire and Rescue Chief Wayne Senter is planning a third attempt in May — and he hopes this one will be the charm.

“We’re looking at some options we have not done before,” Senter said, explaining to the SKF&R board of fire commissioners last week what his recently formed Funding Committee had decided would be the best way to solve the district’s staffing shortage.

Senter said although belt-tightening and reorganization over the past year allowed his district to add much-needed staff, he still needs to hire nine additional firefighters/Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) to maintain “reasonable response times.”

To fund the new staff, Senter said, the committee — made up of Senter, Deputy Chief Dan Olson and commissioners Darla Hartley and Paul Golnik — recommended asking voters for a temporary lid lift.

“That would tell voters the lift is for this much money and for this purpose, and allows them to say ‘no’ at a future date,” he said.

Senter said the idea for a temporary lid lift evolved out of recent discussions with Chief Jim Walkowski of the Bainbridge Island Fire Department, which lost its most recent attempt to pass a levy lid lift.

After the loss, Walkowski surveyed voters about the measure, asking why they hadn’t passed it and what they would approve instead. The feedback Walkowski got, Senter said, was that voters wanted a temporary measure.

Commissioner Golnik said he agreed with the approach because he felt voters would be more likely to approve a hike if they knew exactly what the money would be used for.

Commissioner Hartley said she hoped if the measure made it clear that the district would be hiring staff that operated as both EMTs and firefighters, that voters would be more likely to pass it.

Senter agreed, saying he felt there was an unfortunate perception among some of the public that South Kitsap does not experience enough fires to warrant his district hiring more staff.

“(But) we are not a fire department — we offer Emergency Medical Services,” he said. “Eighty percent of what our firefighters do is Basic Life Support (BLS).”

Senter then asked for and received verbal approval from the board to go ahead with his plan to ask voters for a temporary levy lid lift, which he said he planned to do next spring.

If the measure is approved, he said he could begin the process of hiring new staff at the very end of 2006.

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