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Fire chiefs concerned about I-747 cuts

Kitsap County fire districts are the county’s first line of defense against emergencies that range from heart attacks to fire, bioterrorism and earthquake damage. Just as the fire districts are being asked to do more, they face a potential funding loss of over $11 million during the next five years if Initiative 747 is passed by voters in November.

Tim Eyman’s newest initiative, I-747, has the potential of severely limiting the funds to Kitsap emergency services by reducing the funding local fire districts receive from property taxes by $11,289,000.

I-747 would cut the property taxes that fund local emergency services by lowering the property tax cap to 1 percent. Currently, property tax increases are limited to the rate of inflation with a six percent cap.

Voters, eager to limit their property taxes, may not realize that capping funds at a one percent increase could potentially damage the county’s emergency services, according to the Kitsap County Fire Chiefs Association.

Under I-747, the one percent property tax increase that would be allowed is lower than the average rate of inflation. Because the property tax is the primary source of operating revenue for fire districts (which don’t receive impact fees, sales tax or other public funding), local fire departments would lose their ability to keep up with inflation and growth, which could seriously compromise service levels.

Supporters of the Initiative point out that fire districts could hold a special election to ask voters to approve additional needed funding. Each special election in Kitsap County would be costly (as much as $30,000 in South Kitsap, for example) which would be necessarily be passed on to voters. Planning for major equipment expenditures and unexpected circumstances would be difficult if fire districts have to go to the voters to approve every expenditure over the one percent cap.

According to a statement issued by the Kitsap County Fire Chiefs Association this week, if I-747 passes, fire districts will be forced to cut budgets that are already lean and under stress from a variety of factors. Many operating cots, such as fuel and electricity prices, are beyond the fire district’s control.

Increased safety regulations and new threats such as bioterrorism, are also requiring fire departments to invest in upgraded equipment and firefighter training.

If I-747 passes, local officials are concerned that they would need to cut or lengthen apparatus replacement programs and eliminate other programs such as public CPR classes, children’s safety programs and fire and injury prevention efforts.

According to the Kitsap County Fire Chiefs Association statement, fire districts will do what they can to avoid cutting emergency services, but under I-747, actual emergency service reductions could eventually become a

reality.

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