Opinion

SKFR levy increase needed just for SK

Maintaining the level of service provided by South Kitsap Fire and Rescue during the coming two years will take more local tax revenue whether or not there is a regional fire protection service authority.

Adding a regional authority to the mix would just make it a little more difficult to see whether our local taxes are being used to pay for our service.

When our fire district commissioners determine the regular operations levy amount for next year, they have to take into account two declining sources of revenue — federal grants and the emergency medical services levy.

Federal grant funding has been used during the past few years in combination with local tax revenue to staff two additional stations.

In 2009, voters approved a new EMS levy at a higher amount to begin staffing a station near Manchester.

Back in 2006, voters approved a temporary lid lift for the regular levy to staff a station on Bethel Road.

For both these additions to SKFR’s service capacity, federal grants paid part of the required personnel compensation for the first few years, but the grant funding runs out eventually.

In both cases the expectation was an increase in our property tax base and a corresponding increase in levy revenue which would take the place of the expiring federal grant funding.

The recession that began in December 2007 and a drastic decline in new construction kept local tax revenue from growing as one might have expected even without the “bubble” that preceded the recession.

For the EMS levy, the decrease in total assessed value of taxable property caused tax revenue to decline this year — and probably will do the same for 2012.

An increase in the regular levy can offset the decline in the EMS levy’s amount without resulting in a net increase in levy revenue.

To offset the decline in federal grant funds, of course, a net increase in the levy revenue is required.

The temporary lid lift approved in 2006 expires at the end of 2012, so, in the absence of a regional authority, a ballot measure will have to be approved next year to avoid a significant drop in the allowable levy amount for 2013.

If a regional authority were formed before then, its levy for 2013 could take the place of an SKFR regular operations levy — eliminating the need for an election to approve a lid lift.

But in either case the levy we pay in 2013 has to be high enough to offset the declines in federal grant funding and the EMS levy in order to maintain our service levels.

Our SKFR commissioners can increase the levy amount we will pay in 2012 enough to offset the two declining revenue sources by using some of their “banked levy capacity” from the lid lift approved in 2006.

Having used only so much of the levy authority as they needed to maintain the promised increases in service capacity, the commissioners have been setting the regular levy at less than the maximum since 2007.

Now that the recession’s effects have caused the tax base to shrink rather than grow at anywhere near the historical average, they can turn to that “banked levy capacity” for next year.

Then the six-year temporary lid lift expires, and they need to obtain voter approval for another lid lift to take its place starting in 2013.

If they are able to make the needed increases in two steps, the impact on our tax bills may be noticeable but not irritatingly so.

The revenue decline caused by expiring federal grants and reduced EMS taxes during the coming two years will probably total about $460,000 or about $230,000 each year.

Offsetting this decline in revenue would require an increase of about 3 percent in the regular levy each year in addition to whatever increase is needed to cover rising costs.

It’s either that or start thinking about how to cut services rather than maintain what we gained with the voter-approved ballot measures in 2006 and 2009.

Bob Meadows is a Port Orchard resident.

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