Opinion

SKFR to decide ballot measure’s terms for levy

Anyone wanting to tell our South Kitsap Fire and Rescue commissioners their opinion about the upcoming property tax ballot measure should speak up by next week’s meeting.

The SKFR commissioners will be considering what to put on the ballot for an election in April, and they will have to make their decision at one of the two February meetings.

The ballot measure’s purpose is to replace a temporary lid lift approved by voters in 2006 which expires at the end of this year.

In 2006 voters approved a lid lift for the regular operations levy that provided enough revenue — together with federal grant funds — to hire personnel to staff an additional station on Bethel Road.

In 2009 voters approved an increase in the emergency medical services (EMS) levy that provided enough funds — together with federal grants and the regular operations levy — to hire personnel to staff an additional station near Manchester.

The idea was to improve response times by having more personnel available to respond to calls and by putting those additional people in areas where they could do the most good.

Now the question is how to maintain the added response capabilities with declining EMS levy revenue and the ending of the federal grants that made it possible to afford the increased capabilities earlier than otherwise could have been done.

If voters don’t approve a lid lift to replace the one that expires this year, SKFR’s regular operations levy limit for 2013 will be what it would have been had the 2006 lid lift never occurred — about $7.2 million.

This year’s regular operations levy is $8,840,542; and rather than increasing in 2013, it would fall to $7.2 million without a replacement lid lift.

Assuming total assessed property valuation for 2013 taxes falls by about 5 percent as it did for this year’s taxes, the EMS levy would decline by about $160,000 from the current $3,210,967.

We won’t know the total assessed valuation for 2013 taxes until this autumn, but it seems reasonable to plan for a decline that is similar to what happened for this year’s taxes.

The total levied by SKFR this year is just over $12 million, but with a 5 percent decline in assessed valuation and no replacement lid lift it would drop to about $10.2 million.

SKFR is now considering what tax rate would be needed to collect the same total levy amount in 2013 as is levied this year. In other words, no increase in the total would be levied.

While some may wish for a tax cut, others might wonder if staying the same from this year to the next is really feasible.

A tax cut would force a reduction in response capability, since taking back the increase approved in 2006 takes away most of the revenue needed to staff those two additional stations.

Staying with the same total levy amount rather than increasing it will squeeze SKFR’s budget, but the squeeze can hardly be avoided.

Already SKFR employees have gone without cost of living adjustments this year and last year to balance revenue and expenditures.

Until property values begin to rise after declining for the past few years, district employees will be faced with the same sort of squeeze. No lid lift can exceed the maximum tax rate, and SKFR is approaching that maximum.

State law requires the commissioners to place a tax rate on the ballot for voter approval rather than a levy amount, so they have to choose a rate that is likely to allow them to levy a total of $12 million for 2013.

Assuming a 5 percent decline in total valuation for 2013 taxes, the tax rate on the ballot has to be $1.48 per $1,000.

If voters approve the rate on the ballot, and if the assumed total valuation isn’t too optimistic, SKFR can levy for 2013 what they are now considering — the same total as is levied this year.

If property values fall less than 5 percent, SKFR can levy $12 million for 2013 and not levy all that they could with the approved lid lift — just as they have since 2006 when they promised to use only so much of that year’s lid lift as they needed.

 

Bob Meadows is a Port Orchard resident.

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