Central Kitsap Fire & Rescue welcomed 11 new firefighters in 2020. The new hires were in response to increasing call volumes and retirements. The positions are funded out of the District’s operating levy paid through property taxes.
CKFR funds daily emergency operations through two operating levies. One is a Fire Levy of $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value. The other is a levy for emergency medical service (EMS) at $0.50 per $1,000. A small portion of revenue also is raised by reimbursed costs for ambulance transports.
At times, the District may ask voters for temporary funding through a Maintenance and Operations Levy. Voters approved an M&O Levy during the last recession that expired in 2019 as the economy improved.
Capital items – like stations, fire engines and ambulances – are funded through bonds. Currently, the District has a bond for apparatus that will be paid off at the end of 2020. CKFR is considering asking voters to approve a bond to improve its facilities that would take effect after the old apparatus bond retires. Fire Chief John Oliver says that the timing on this is strategic and deliberate in consideration of the tax impacts to citizens.
“We can address our facility needs for the next 50 years while reducing impacts to taxpayers,” said Chief John Oliver. “This is a rare opportunity, which is why we’re having this conversation with our community now.”
For example, none of CKFR’s fire stations are up to current seismic standards. Engineers have identified several that would be in danger of collapsing even with a small earthquake. This could jeopardize the ability of personnel to respond to emergency calls during such an event. Several stations also are located significant distances away from populated areas, which increases emergency response times.
Improving firefighter health and safety also is an issue. Cancer is a leading cause of death for emergency personnel. The current stations lack effective exhaust removal systems and decontamination areas that reduce firefighter exposure to carcinogens and infectious diseases. Many stations also are not equipped with modern fire and life safety systems such as security cameras, commercial fire alarms and sprinklers.
The Board of Fire Commissioners will hold a public hearing on March 23, 2020 to take community input on the idea of a facilities bond. If the Board decides to place a bond on the ballot and voters approve it, taxpayers would see a net decrease in taxes they pay to the District in 2021 compared to 2019. This is because the M&O Levy expired and the apparatus bond will be paid off.
The District has developed a Capital Facilities Plan that identifies station projects to improve community safety and create a healthier work environment for firefighters. CKFR spent two years developing the Plan, a copy of which is available on the agency’s website at ckfrdev721.wpengine.com.
“We want our community to know how emergency services are funded,” said Chief Oliver. “We have given this careful thought and planning.”