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Fire District merger talks bogged down?

At the latest meeting of the South Kitsap Fire and Rescue Board of Commissioners, Chief Wayne Senter expressed concern and frustration that the discussions regarding a merger between three Kitsap County fire districts were not progressing as scheduled.

“The biggest issue is timelines and priorities,” Senter said Thursday, explaining that he was concerned about recent meetings being cancelled, and said he felt it was crucial that “at least one planning meeting a month is held, if at all possible.”

Currently, two are scheduled a month, along with two steering committee meetings. Senter said recent cancellations of the meetings have him concerned that the process will not be completed in time to be on the ballot in November of 2009, or even the following August.

The West Sound Fire and Rescue planning and steering committees were formed to discuss the possibility of merging SKFR with Central Kitsap Fire and Rescue and the City of Bremerton’s Fire Department.

After the governing boards of all three agencies voted to go ahead with discussions, representatives from each formed the two committees and have been meeting the past few months to air concerns.

If all three departments decide a three-way merger would be viable, the concept would first have to be approved by voters in either a primary or general election.

The timeline created when discussions began predicted that Kitsap’s potential Regional Fire Authority could be put before voters as early as November 2009. However, Senter said that target may not be reached.

“We need to have a frank discussion at the next RFA meeting,” Senter said, explaining that he hears reasons such as people being busy and having other obligations as to why meetings aren’t held or timelines met.

“It’s question of priorities, and this is a priority,” he said. “We are always busy.”

Senter said the 26-month timeline given for the meetings is a “reasonable time frame,” and “we don’t need any extra time — we need people to get it done.”

A planning committee meeting was scheduled for last night, with the next July 15.

The next two steering committee meetings are scheduled for July 8 and July 29.

The discussions surrounding a county RFA grew out of a merger “feasibility study” completed last year by Emergency Services Consulting inc. (ESCi) that looked at whether a merger between SKFR, CKFR and Bremerton Fire would overall benefit the agencies and the community.

After reviewing each department’s revenue, territory and operations, ESCi determined the three are often duplicating each other’s efforts, particularly in administrative and support services, and recommended the three fully integrate into a regional fire authority.

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