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Fire district will form citizen advisory group

Commissioners for the Central Kitsap Fire & Rescue District have agreed to ask a citizens advisory committee to take a look at the economic conditions of the fire district.

That step was taken Monday, after commissioners approved spending more than $50,000 on an employee exercise facility and investing up to $60,000 in internet technology upgrades throughout the district’s facilities. With those upgrades, commissioners and the public will have Wifi in the commission’s meeting room.

Fire Chief Scott Weninger told commissioners that the internal group that has been looking at the district’s finances is almost ready to make a report to the board. The group, including staff, administration, two commissioners and union firefighters, has been meeting monthly for the past several months under the name of the “economic summit group”

Weninger said at the same time that the group’s recommendations are given to commissioners, he thought it would be a good idea to have a group of external stakeholders -- residents and taxpayers in the district, business owners and community group representatives — weigh in on the recommendations made by the economic summit group.

“I’d like to get a reading from those folks on whether we are headed in the right direction,” Weninger said.

Commissioners will then have recommendations from internal and external sources before moving forward with necessary changes in the district’s finances.

Weninger hinted that the district may be looking at adding a maintenance and operations levy, which would have to be approved by voters in the fire district. The district already has an emergency medical services levy which is up for renewal next year.

Since 2008, when property values in the district dropped, the district has fought some financial issues. The district receives a percentage of county property taxes on which its budget is based, and due to assessed value going down, it has sustained a loss of more than $1 million since 2010.

In general, that has left commissioners looking for ways to reduce the budget, including operating the Chico Station with paid staff on a limited basis, possibly closing the Tracyton Station, a reduction of overtime, and deferring maintenance.

Commissioners asked Weninger to see if he can re-establish the citizens group that the district had in 2010 that looked at financial issues then. Commissioners said they want a group of 11 to 15 people and if some vacancies happen because members of the previous group are not available, that he should seek out representation from the CK School District, Harrison Medical Center, the Silverdale Rotary and the Silverdale Chamber of Commerce, letting those groups send someone, rather than the chief selecting additional members.

Weninger is expected to have the group ready to meet within a few weeks. That group will review what the economic summit group has come up with and then have an open session at which commissioners will “be in the audience” to hear their reaction to any economic proposals under consideration.

The citizens group is expected to meet only once. From that point on, it will be the commissioners decision what economic steps are taken to help with the district’s finances.

During that same meeting Monday, commissioners approved spending up to $60,000 on internet technology at the main administrative building and at fire stations, replacing the existing infrastructure that is more than ten years old.

Robert Morley, the district’s IT manager, told commissioners that money was spent to upgrade the district’s servers, but that in order for the district to take advantage of them, it now needs to upgrade its infrastructure, including its wireless network, phone system and connections to a fiber network. He said the backup system also is inadequate and needs to be replaced.

Part of the upgrade will be to provide Wifi in the commissioners’ meeting room at the district headquarters. Previously, commissioners approved the purchase of 25 tablets at a total cost of about $25,000. Five of those tablets will be given to commissioners for district business use. The other tablets will be used in fire vehicles at the scenes of emergencies.

Weninger said that in order for commissioners to access their documents, email, etc. on their new tablets during meetings the room needed to have upgrades to allow for Wifi use.The matter passed unanimously.

And at the same time, commissioners unanimously approved spending $51,536 for exercise equipment and electrical upgrades to a room at Station 51 that is being converted to an exercise facility for employees and volunteers.

Last year, the commission approved converting the room from a public meeting room to an exercise facility and with Monday’s action, commissioners have now okay’ed the costs of equipping the facility.

Following the vote, Weninger said he thought that “it sends the message the we really want healthy, fit employees and volunteers.”

Board Chair Dave Fergus agreed.

“I’m very supportive of this,” he said.

In another report, Assistant Chief Jay Lovato told the board that in March, the Chico Station was unmanned 13 of 31 days.

Weninger also told the board that the possible closure of the Tracyton station will be on the agenda April 28. An open house at that station was held in March at which public comment was taken. Commissioners are expected to discuss closing the station that is now manned by all volunteers at that meeting.

 

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