Fire levy not a hot button issue with residents

Even though North Kitsap Fire & Rescue officials have made several attempts to inform residents about its proposed May 17 ballot measure, their constituents don’t seem to care about learning why the fire department is asking for more money.

Of the five meetings, plus some additional gatherings in residents’ homes, a total of 29 people showed up — from zero attendance at the Indianola and Suquamish meetings to about 10 at the Hansville meeting, said NKF&R spokeswoman Michéle Laboda.

The ballots for the special mail-in election were sent to residents this week and fire officials are concerned that residents may base their decision on the ballot language alone — which, due to circumstances beyond NKF&R’s control, doesn’t fully explain the reason for increasing the levy lid, Laboda said.

Currently, the fire district collects $1.25 per $1,000 on assessed property values within its district. The ballot proposes to increase the levy to $1.50 for 2006. The last time it was at this rate was in 2001.

For an average $242,000 home in the North End, the taxpayer would pay an additional $100.41 in 2006, which includes a 15 percent increase in property value. The levy rate would drop as property values increase.

The proposed change will help support the district in the first third of its fiscal year. The district receives its primary revenue, property taxes, in April and October and its departments use carryover funding to get them through those months. If the measure to increase revenue isn’t passed, the district could lose its carryover funding by 2008.

Laboda said that if the measure doesn’t pass, adjustments to the budget, including layoffs, could take place as early as January 2006.

“We will have to begin that process of drawing down overhead expenses, 76 percent of which are personnel,” Laboda said.

This would, in turn, not allow the district to have enough staff for all four stations in Hansville, Kingston, South Kingston and Suquamish.

For the next week, NKF&R staff will make itself available via the phone in the evening and on the weekends for those who were not able to attend the meetings or if there are questions about the ballots they received in the mail. Residents can call (360) 297-3619 for more information.

As for why people aren’t interested in the measure, Laboda said she and the staff are clueless.

“It could be argued that our mailers got out late but both the Herald and the Sun ran meeting notices way before the meetings,” she said, adding that the local neighborhood newsletters did the same, yet, “our turnout was pretty low.”

Aside from low attendance, they have received few phone calls and few in-person visits from residents wanting to know more. However, their biggest fear came true when one of their mailed informational brochures was returned to the fire department with negative comments written all over it. It was clear to fire officials that this particular resident misunderstood how the fire department’s funding system works, Laboda said, and it’s this type of person that concerns fire officials.

“We just want people to have access to all the information so they can make an informed choice,” Laboda said.

While the fire district can only provide information about the ballot measure, the local firefighter union, International Association of Firefighters Local #2819 (Professional Firefighters of Kitsap County), can ask voters to pass the levy.

Rick LaGrandeur, union vice president and a NKF&R firefighter, said the union has been working hard to get the message out, including posting large signs around the main thoroughfares of the North End, asking voters to vote yes on their ballots.

“It’s a real simple message but something people driving by at 40 mph can see,” he said.

The union has also sent informational brochures to residents and off-duty firefighters are positioning themselves around the area with signs and trying to talk with the public.

So far, the response has been positive and residents seem to be supportive of the measure, LaGrandeur said, however, there is only so much you can do.

“Campaigns are kind of iffy,” he said. “You can do everything you can (but) if they don’t vote yes, they don’t vote yes.”

The measure isn’t to instill a new tax or to hire more firefighters, he emphasized.

“We’re doing it to keep what we have in place,” he said. “That’s the focus.”

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