North Kitsap, Poulsbo fire districts studying cooperation

NORTH KITSAP — North Kitsap’s fire districts could save money by consolidating services as budgets tighten.

North Kitsap Fire & Rescue and the Poulsbo Fire Department released a joint request for proposals this week asking for a consulting company to find more ways the districts can cooperate.

The districts are open to any suggestions for consolidating, as long as they don’t lower the level of service they already provide, North Kitsap Fire Board of Commissioners Chair Stephen Neupert said.

North Kitsap, Poulsbo and Bainbridge fire districts have been meeting regularly for several years to discuss areas of cooperation. They already share some recruit training exercises, officer testing and equipment. Bainbridge Fire requested to not be a part of the analysis, partly because it shares less in common with Poulsbo and North Kitsap Fire.

Poulsbo Fire Chief Dan Olson said the study will give the districts an objective view of how they could be working more efficiently.

“For example, is it necessary to have duplicated positions?” Olson said. “Do we need two fire chiefs? Do we need two training officers? We want to have an honest analysis of what would be best for our citizens.”

The North Kitsap and Poulsbo districts are similar in size and share a large border. Poulsbo Fire covers a 54 square mile area, including the 3.74-square-mile City of Poulsbo, and responds to more than 3,100 alarms each year. North Kitsap Fire covers 49 square miles and responds to more than 2,400 alarms each year. It also contracts services to the Port Gamble S’Klallam and Suquamish tribes.

The districts have been looking especially hard for savings as tax revenues have declined.

North Kitsap Fire & Rescue saw a $52,863 combined drop in revenue from its EMS and fire levies in 2010. Chief Dan Smith said the district hasn’t received full projections for 2011 from the Kitsap County Assessor yet, but he expects revenue to drop another $58,873.

Property values were projected to fall by more than 7 percent in the district in 2010 and 2011. North Kitsap Fire’s levies will bring in about $5.27 million in 2011.

Poulsbo Fire has seen a similar drop off in revenue from falling home values. The district is budgeting for a revenue of $7,404,874 in 2011, about $189,363 less than in 2010. It expects revenue to drop another $318,688 in 2012.

Levies account for about 90 percent of the revenue at both districts. Income from ambulance services and interest from investments has also fallen off sharply for both districts since 2008.

Last year Poulsbo Fire held back on new hires and limited staffing at its Surfrest station on Hood Canal. With more gloomy revenue projections ahead, Poulsbo Fire has restructured, eliminating its deputy chief level and redistributing its duties, Olson said.

North Kitsap Fire cut back on optional spending and hired two firefighters to avoid paying more overtime hours last year.

Chief Smith said greater cooperation between the districts could help soften future budget blows.

“You can cut and cut, which we’ve continued to do, but that’s not sustainable,” Smith said.

The districts are accepting proposals for the analysis through Nov. 1. The study would begin in January of 2011 and an implementation plan would be submitted to the districts by the end of March. The joint Board of Commissioners would review the plan April 15.

Stephen Neupert said the districts won’t know how much the study will cost until it sees the proposals. But, he said the boards will only approve a study if it can pay for itself, “and then some.”

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