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Fire merger vote on hold

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of marriage — talking about money — has also stalled the process of a merger between three Kitsap County Fire agencies recently.

Dusty Wiley, a fire commissioner for South Kitsap Fire and Rescue and chair of a committee planning a potential marriage between SKFR, Central Kitsap Fire and Rescue and the Bremerton Fire Department, said creating a union known as West Sound Fire and Rescue has not been cancelled, only postponed.

“We’re not backing out of the (process) totally, but some of the (ideas) just weren’t penciling out,” Wiley said.

At the planning committee’s last meeting April 22, Wiley said Bremerton Fire Chief Al Duke, who serves on the WSFR’s steering committee, presented a recommendation to slow down the process and not put it before the votes in November.

“There was just too much to get done by November,” Wiley said, explaining that figuring out a way to combine the three very different funding mechanisms that the agencies operate under was difficult enough, but seemed nearly impossible when faced with a faltering economy.

“With the concerns about the economy and overall funding issues, the committee passed a motion to not have the issue on the ballot this November,” SKFR Deputy Chief Steve Wright told his district’s board of commissioners at its last meeting April 23.

WSFR’s planning committee meets next on May 19.

The idea for a merger was supported by the Kitsap Cooperative Services Feasibility Study prepared by Emergency Services Consulting inc.(ESCi) for all three fire agencies.

While the study suggested there could be benefits to the three organizations not officially “merging” into one organization yet agreeing to cooperatively deliver services, ESCi ultimately recommended a full integration as a “regional fire authority” as the preferred option.

According to the report, the three departments are often duplicating each other’s efforts, particularly in administrative and support services, and a “full legal integration (into) a single fire agency,” would result in an overall savings to each agency as it “eliminates redundancies while improving the overall level of service.”

However, at the fourth and final study meeting Thursday night, Senter stressed that his district was not considering an integration merely as a cost-saving measure.

“This is not about saving money,” he said. “This is about reallocating funds and resources to provide better services to our citizens more efficiently.”

One oft-cited cause of inefficiency that would be cured by the departments combining is the location of the most visited care center — Harrison Hospital in Bremerton.

• Also at the meeting, Wright said that completed ballots for SKFR’s EMS Levy renewal on May 19 could be coming in as early as this week.

He estimated that SKFR officials held close to 50 community meetings to explain the levy to the voters, and “we believe our message has been adequately presented to the community.”

Beginning last weekend, Wright said SKFR members would be out “sign waving” on the weekends to rally support for the levy.

• The total money raised for the Olalla Easter Breakfast held April 12 was estimated to be approximately $1,500, which will be given to the family of Evan King, a 10-year-old South Kitsap boy who was struck by an ATV while sledding last December.

Scott Hartley, a battalion chief with SKFR’s volunteer association, said that volunteers served 318 breakfasts this year, which was up slightly from last year’s number of 290.

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