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Details to come on regional fire authority
The plan that could determine how a regional fire protection service authority would be governed and financed while serving both South Kitsap and Bremerton may be unveiled within the coming few weeks.
This plan ought to be of interest to the voters in South Kitsap, since it would function much like a charter to state any limitations on the power of the regional authority’s governing body.
If the planning committee can come to an agreement on the wording, the draft plan should be available for public examination and comment for a little while before being adopted by the committee.
Once adopted by the committee and submitted to the Bremerton city council and South Kitsap Fire and Rescue (SKFR) commissioners for approval, it will be more difficult for members of the public to persuade anyone to make changes.
The city council and SKFR commissioners would be considering whether to approve the committee’s plan and place a proposition on the ballot for voters to approve or reject formation of a regional authority operating under the terms of the plan.
It may be possible for the council or commission to require changes, but the pressure of a deadline to get on the ballot this year could make them reluctant to do more than is absolutely necessary to proceed.
The plan itself is subject to voter approval or rejection as part of a ballot measure proposing formation of the regional authority.
A ballot proposition will merely ask whether you approve or reject formation of the regional authority and plan, not whether you like one but not the other.
SKFR has posted online many details such as a projected budget for the regional authority’s first year of operation under the “publications” tab at its home page (http://www.skfr.org/).
The budget and financing information provided by SKFR is worth studying while awaiting the disclosure of the plan that would determine how the regional authority would be financed.
There is an annual funding gap of approximately $2.4 million that has to be filled by a payment from Bremerton to the regional authority for the indefinite future.
Measuring this funding gap, and thus the required payment by Bremerton from its own revenues, will be a continuing necessity, so the plan has to describe how it will be done.
If the amount paid by Bremerton isn’t sufficient despite complying with whatever the plan says, then service would be reduced or taxes would have to be raised.
The projected budget provides an essential starting point in deciding whether the plan’s eventual wording is adequate to maintain South Kitsap services without imposing higher taxes to cover a shortfall.
Anyone wanting to comment on the plan before its adoption ought to study the projected revenue and spending figures to gain an understanding of the problem the plan has to solve.
It is easy to imagine that great savings will be achieved by consolidating fire protection and emergency medical services, but imagining what isn’t actually in the planning committee’s projections is not a good substitute for deciding based on the best available facts.
If the plan’s wording protects South Kitsap taxpayers from a levy increase to pay part of Bremerton’s costs, it must also protect them from the impact of a revenue shortfall caused by too small a payment from Bremerton.
Since the details are online for all to peruse, it will be interesting to see whether members of the public “scrub” those figures and find anything that ought to be questioned.
Some things may seem small, and may actually be covered in a way that isn’t apparent to someone who reads through the documents; but small things can add up to big problems, and a question not asked is rarely answered.
The regional authority may save money in some areas but cost more in others, so it’s important to be reasonably sure of the savings and to identify the extra costs.
With a good understanding of the financing situation — or at least a list of questions to be asked — South Kitsap residents will be better equipped to examine the draft plan and comment while changes can more easily be made.
Bob Meadows is a Port Orchard resident.