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Bremerton eyes fire department merger

With the South Kitsap Fire and Rescue and Central Kitsap Fire and Rescue commissioners supporting the idea of a regional fire authority, Bremerton Fire Department Chief Al Duke threw his support behind the idea Wednesday night.

“There are no details,” Dukes told the Bremerton City Council at its study session in the Norm Dicks Government Center. “The study just said it’s feasible and doable. It might not work out.”

The organization of a regional fire authority is currently being attempted between the Centralia Fire Department and Lewis County Fire District No. 12 and is a new option that was recently approved by the state Legislature, he said.

“Central Kitsap Fire and Rescue and South Kitsap Fire and Rescue have gone through the process and they agree this is the safe route,” he said.

Instead of merging or annexing the three departments, the regional fire authority format allows for enough local control and flexibility to ensure that each entities’ needs are met, Duke said.

“It looks like this would give us enough control to really participate in the planning process, because that’s where the real details fall out is in planning,” Councilman Mike Sheppard said.

While the Poulsbo Fire Department was annexed into Fire District No. 18 and the Port Orchard Fire Department was annexed into South Kitsap Fire and Rescue, Duke said believes the regional fire authority format is the best option for the city.

“(In those) there was a need to annex a smaller department into a larger fire department,” he said.

In annexations and mergers, the city would risk losing local control of the Bremerton Fire Department as elected officials would not be automatically placed on those fire department boards of commissioners, he said.

Also in Port Orchard, the Port Orchard City Council chose to maintain its pre-annexation property tax levy without the expense of maintaining and operating a fire department, Duke said.

“So you can take all the money you were spending for fire services and use them for something else?” Council President Will Maupin asked.

That isn’t necessarily the case, Dukes responded.

“I believe the fire department will not take with it the $1.4 million in LEOFF (retired firefighters pensions) and there are some other issues that may need to be resolved,” Duke said.

Before the regional fire authority proposal can be sent to the voters, all three governing bodies will need to pass resolutions creating a planning committee that would consist of elected officials, he said.

That committee will be tasked with developing the entire organizational and financial structure for the new organization, Duke said.

“There are things we have to look at as far as finances and what is the right mix and explain it to the public,” city Finance Director Laura Lyon said.

The city must look at all the costs associated with the regional fire authority and ensure that it has enough funds to cover those expenses, Lyon said.

“Each governing body has to sign off on the proposal before it goes to the voters,” he said.

When the issue goes to the voters, it will more than likely require a supermajority from all of the voters in the affected areas to pass, he said.

As long as the total number of voters meets or exceeds the supermajority threshold, the results in the individual districts doesn’t matter, Duke said.

However, there will be ample opportunities for the public to be involved in the process, he said.

Because the committee meetings will consist of three fire commissioners from South Kitsap Fire and Rescue and Central Kitsap Fire and Rescue a quorum will be met for those boards, he said.

Although no timeline has been set for the proposal to head to the voters, Duke said based upon the work of the Centralia Fire Department and Lewis County Fire District No. 12, he estimates that it could be done within a year.

For anyone wanting more information about the formation of a regional fire authority, Duke said he highly recommends the web site, www.regionalfire.org, which details the Centralia/Lewis County process.

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