Fire District's salesmanship needs work

It’s fortunate the leaders of Fire District 7 know a lot about fighting fires and don’t have to earn a living in the private sector, where their powers of salesmanship would be exposed.

The fire district last week announced it planned to once again ask South Kitsap voters to lift the lid on property taxes in order to pay for six new firefighters — which the district insists it needs to keep pace with the community’s growth.

Whether the community agrees with the district is something we’ll find out when the votes are counted. What seems indisputable, however, is the district’s poor sense of timing in announcing at the same meeting it also planned to spend $1.2 million to purchase six brand new vehicles.

While the vehicles — which include two Class 1 ambulances and four triple-combination pumpers — may very well be necessary, the point is it that leaves a rather poor taste in the mouths of voters to plead poverty one instant and virtually in the same breath disclose you’re planning to write out a check for $1.2 million.

Technically, the district can collect property taxes of up to $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value. But since passage two years ago of Initiative 695, yearly property tax increases are capped at 1 percent, which leaves the district currently collecting only $1.40. Fire Chief Mike Brown last week asked the District 7 commissioners to let him ask voters for the additional 10 cents in order to add personnel at the Fircrest and Tremont stations.

In 2002, Brown warned that if no new levy was in place by 2004, the district would have to start cutting staff. Voters were unconvinced, however, and the lid lift request failed when it appeared on the primary ballot and again during the general election.

No staffers have thus far been laid off, but Brown said the situation is reaching a critical point.

Again, we’re not suggesting Brown is wrong. What we’re suggesting is that he might have been better served by waiting even a few weeks after the lid lift request to announce the purchase of the new vehicles to keep voters from associating the two unrelated issues.

Running ballot measures — as the commissioners of other local taxing districts well know — is an expensive proposition, and done at public expense. Unsuccessful measures are more than a waste of time; they also drain the district’s presumably limited financial resources.

Simple logic dictates if it’s going to go hat in hand to the voters again, Fire District 7 needs to formulate a strategy that gives itself the best chance of being successful rather than shooting itself in the foot.

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