We’re all in this fire district merger together
By ROBERT MEADOWS
Port Orchard Independent columnist
July 14, 2008 · Updated 4:18 PM
Planning for the consolidation of local fire and emergency medical services into a “West Sound Regional Fire and Rescue” authority may illustrate the potential advantages and disadvantages of reducing the number of local agencies.
One entity that covers more area and people could possibly provide services more efficiently, if economies of scale reduce the cost of performing functions that are common to each of the smaller entities.
On the other hand, bigger is not necessarily better.
Unless the communities that come under the regional fire authority are similar in their needs for service and ability to pay, managing the new regional authority could be far more difficult.
Instead of local control of a smaller fire district that answers to voters with similar needs, the governing body would have to set priorities for services in a broader and more diverse area.
The central administration of a regional fire authority would not necessarily have fewer personnel in management positions, since leadership duties are ordinarily delegated to subordinates to make it humanly possible to handle the load.
Having more people in an organization can make it difficult to coordinate the work of all. For example, although it is not a perfect analogy, notice the difficulty in getting everyone together for the planning meetings now underway.
Representatives from South Kitsap Fire and Rescue district, Central Kitsap Fire and Rescue district, and the City of Bremerton have been selected to serve on the planning committee, but finding times when everyone can attend the meetings has not been easy.
Recognizing that they each have their ordinary duties to handle along with this additional planning role, it is understandably difficult to fit the planning committee business into all their schedules.
The leaders of a regional fire authority that covers South Kitsap, Central Kitsap, and Bremerton would face a similar scheduling problem. With more people on the team, implementing policies becomes more difficult even when it involves their regular duties rather than additional duty on a planning committee.
Once the planning committee finishes, we can see how they expect things to work. The organization chart, costs, and funding methods should be explained well enough that voters can decide whether to go ahead with the consolidation.
Despite their best efforts, the planning committee may not be able to answer one important question — should the voters of South Kitsap join with the voters of Central Kitsap and Bremerton in deciding what funding to provide to a new regional fire authority?
In South Kitsap, we tend to expect government entities to do more than ask for a tax increase. We generally require an explanation of the purposes and need for the additional funding.
Of course, we have our share of people who vote either “yes” or “no” with little apparent consideration of the size of the tax increase or the justification for it.
But more often than not, ballot measures that propose tax increases are approved or rejected by the voters based on their understanding of the need and their ability to pay.
South Kitsap Fire and Rescue had to try more than once to get voter approval of a property tax lid lift; but in Central Kitsap a significantly bigger tax increase was approved on the first try with little indication of a greater need for it.
Bremerton voters will decide in the August election whether to approve an increase in their emergency medical services (EMS) levy of at least 59 percent, so we may get to see how they make such decisions.
Having approved a six-year EMS levy in 2003 that runs through 2009, Bremerton voters are being asked to replace the sixth year of their current levy with a higher amount in the first year of a subsequent six-year levy.
Will there be any indication that Bremerton voters wonder why this EMS levy proposition is on the ballot a year early, or why it calls for such a large revenue increase?
It isn’t likely that many of us paid attention in the past to such ballot measures in other jurisdictions. We don’t vote in their elections, Now, it matters in two ways.
We need to know how the voters behave, since they would outnumber us in a regional fire authority election. We also have to consider whether a regional fire authority’s governing body would resist justifying ballot propositions.
If adequate justification has not been required in the past in Bremerton or Central Kitsap, would their representatives on the governing body want to follow their customary way of proposing tax increases?
It wasn’t easy to get our local government entities to follow the custom of telling us what the money is for when they ask for more, so it would be a shame to see the custom disappear after consolidation.
Robert Meadows is a Port Orchard resident.