Regional fire service plan going nowhere

Ever since the idea for consolidating South Kitsap Fire and Rescue with its counterparts in Bremerton and possibly Central Kitsap was first broached several years ago, its proponents have insisted the reorganized entity could offer economies of scale that would make it cheaper to operate while keeping service levels at their current levels or better.

The draft plan currently on the table, however, offers neither. Consequently, it was a non-starter even before the Bremerton firefighters’ union gave it a thumbs-down this week, effectively killing the concept in its current form.

As columnist Bob Meadows pointed out last week, the fatal flaw in the plan is that the city of Bremerton currently spends about $2.4 million more on its fire department than the regional authority could collect in taxes.

The regional fire service plan being considered now fails to address how that gap would be filled. Instead, the planning committee merely proposes to end the city’s obligation to the regional fire district after five years with no mention of what happens at that point.

But of course we all know the answer to that question. Once up and running, the consolidated fire district would be our only protection against disaster, and we could hardly turn down the request for a tax increase to fund it if the alternative was chaos or drastically reduced service levels.

Again, it wasn’t supposed to be this way. As the firefighters’ union points out, the whole point of merging was to eliminate overlapping services and streamline management, thus saving money that could either be used to fill the funding gap or hire additional firefighters, which would enhance service levels.

But any plan that can’t do that without asking the residents of South Kitsap to raise their taxes — or worse, expects them to approve it without being honest about the eventual need for a tax increase — is a step back from what we currently have, not an improvement.

That being the case, it seems the planning committee either needs to go back to the drawing board or simply concede a consolidation isn’t the grand idea we were assured it would be.

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