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Initiative could cost CKFR
"One of the things inititiative maker Tim Eyman didn't tell voters about is how his Initiative 722, which caps the property tax, might affect funding for essential public services such as fire and emergency medical.Central Kitsap Fire and Rescue will take a revenue hit over the next few years because it won't be able collect the 4 percent levy it needs for revenues.The measure approved by voters last week holds property tax levies to 2 percent or the cost of inflation, whichever is less. It also calls for agencies such as the fire service to hold an election to get the rest of the levy it needs to operate, creating a new drain on revenues, said CKFR Chief Executive Officer Richard West.Paying for an election would drain another $30,000-$35,000 from CKFR.The initiative itself will cost CKFR about $200,000 in lost revenues because it can't levy the 4.5 percent officials anticipated for the 2001 budget.We have been operating between 4 and 6 percent on a fairly consistent basis, although expenses have always exceeded projected revenues, West said. The only thing we get in new revenues is from new construction.On Monday, Nov. 6, CKFR's board of commissioners voted to adopt a resolution to increase taxes by 2 percent in 2001. West said no members of the public attended a pre-election public hearing Nov. 6 when the Board of Fire Commissioners discussed its options in light of I-722.The options were to go to a 4.5 percent levy if I-722 didn't pass, or 2 percent if it did.It passed, and that's the end of the story, West said.He noted the contradiction between approval of I-722 and overwhelming voter approval of past levies for fire and medical service.They've told us overwhelmingly that it's an essential public service, but nobody put that in an initiative, West said.The system is not good. It challenges administration every day to have this very delicate balance between revenues and expenditures, he said.West noted that 98 percent of the fire service's revenues come from property taxes.West suggested that all the public services in the county be put on a ballot, and let people pick and choose what they want, and fund them accordingly, fire, medical and police.Providing emergency medical and advanced life support service always has been a problem, he added: We never collect enough taxes to support the medical program.That's why they implemented the ambulance fee program, charging patients for transporting them to medical facilities.Other districts started charging for the service in 1998 to offset the costs.But, West said, We were one of the last in the county, besides (Chico's) District 12 for whom we serve advanced life support needs, to start charging.The loss won't pinch the budget too much this year, according to West.We've been properly preparing for this for the last several years. We've expected some property (tax) restriction due to some initiative, or to get to our maximum levy rate, he said.We'll do OK next year because of prudent management, we've been ... financially responsible, West said.But he added wistfully, It's too bad we don't have our own Tim Eyman going to bat for us, and coming up with a statute to change the funding mechanism for fire and emergency medical services. "