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Regional fire merger decision not expected until 2009
By RACHEL BRANT
Representatives from Central Kitsap Fire & Rescue, South Kitsap Fire & Rescue and the Bremerton Fire Department took a step forward Tuesday night in merging the three fire agencies.
The Kitsap Regional Fire Authority planning committee had its second meeting Dec. 18 at the Kitsap Readiness Center in Bremerton. The group will meet each month to discuss the possible merger of the fire agencies into the Kitsap Regional Fire Authority.
Its the very beginning so its getting the backbone together, said Bremerton Fire Chief Al Duke. The meat of the work will start next month.
The planning committee consists of three elected representatives from the three fire departments. CKFR Fire Commissioner Dave Fergus was elected to serve as the planning committee chair for 2008 at the groups November meeting.
The steering committee also will meet monthly and is comprised of five representatives from each fire department. The group works under the direction of the planning committee and gathers information to present to the planning committee. SKFR Chief Wayne Senter currently serves as the steering committees interim chair. The group has yet to hold their first meeting and elect a chair.
I think theres a lot of cooperation and everyone is looking at it objectively to make the best decision on behalf of the citizens of the area, CKFR Chief Ken Burdette said.
The Kitsap Regional Fire Authority planning and steering committees will meet during the next couple years to assess the validity of consolidation of services and create a service plan with their results, according to their Web site, www.kitsaprfa.org.
The service plan will then go to CKFR, SKFR and the Bremerton City Council for a vote. If all three departments adopt the service plan, Kitsap County residents will then vote on the fire department merger.
The meetings come as a result of the ESCi Feasibility Study was released this summer. The study concluded that the three fire departments should merge into one regional fire authority.
The tentative work plan says the planning committee will make a decision by April 2009. If the group decides a merger of fire services is the best option, Kitsap County voters will vote on the merger in November 2009.
Were hoping to have all the pieces together to make a decision in the April timeframe but the vote wont happen until November, Burdette said.
In an effort to keep the public up to speed on the Kitsap Regional Fire Authority meetings, the group created a Web site, www.kitsaprfa.org. It features the agenda and minutes from each meeting, dates of upcoming meetings, information about the officers and staff as well as the complete ESCi Feasibility Study.
They can go there and get all the information they want so they can see whats going on at the meetings, Duke said. Theyll be able to look at everything.
Senter said the Web site will be available for the public to view any time and people are invited to attend the planning committee meetings as well.
I think its important that when people have questions that they have a place to call or go look online, Senter said. We want to make sure that what were doing is open to everyone.
All three fire chiefs agree that financing for the Kitsap Regional Fire Authority will take a lot of time to discuss and will be a hot topic at planning committee meetings.
The biggest hurdles will be what the expenses will be to combine the three jurisdictions into one, the current expenses and does it improve service delivery, Senter said.
Burdette, Duke and Senter said it is important for the public to be interested in the Kitsap Regional Fire Authority meetings because it will greatly impact the citizens and how they receive fire services.
We want to make sure this is an open process and people understand whats going on, Burdette said.
Senter said people need to understand that the planning and steering committee meetings do not necessarily mean the Kitsap Regional Fire Authority will be created.
Ultimately it will require a vote of the public, Senter said. Nothing changes unless the citizens decide to approve it at an election.