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Fire inspection agreement may soon be history

Notice for termination of an agreement between the Central Kitsap Fire & Rescue District and the Kitsap County Fire Marshal, to provide fire inspections in the district, is expected to be given soon.

Fire district commissioners began discussing the agreement at a work session in May. The matter will be on the agenda June 9 for possible action.

An inter-local agreement, which has been in place since 1986, and was updated in April 2013, calls for CKF&R to perform annual fire inspections of all buildings and businesses within the district that are open to the public.

Such inspections are required by state law, and according to CKF&R Fire Chief Scott Weninger, the inspections are the responsibility of the county, in this case, the Kitsap County Fire Marshal.

With the agreement in place, the district has been performing those inspections at an estimated cost of about $207,000 annually.

Weninger began writing letters to the county in January of this year indicating that because of the district’s current declining property values and reduced tax revenues, the district could no longer afford to provide these services.

Weninger asked the county to reimburse the district for the costs, in the amount of $206,952, which includes the salaries of two full time fire inspectors.

County Fire Marshall David Lynam responded in a letter on Feb. 26 saying “no current revenue stream exists within the department that could be used for service reimbursement.”

At the work session last week, Weninger said that by state law it is the county’s responsibility to provide fire inspection services.

“We want to give the responsibility back to the county for fire inspections,” he said. “The district picked it up in their absence but due to finances, we are no longer able to do that.”

Weninger said the agreement with the county can be terminated at any point, but requires 180 days notice to the fire marshal. He said while he agrees that fire inspections are a needed part of keeping communities safe, “beginning in 2015, we expect that CKFR will be forced to choose between maintaining current fire prevention services and fulfilling some core community responsibilities to provide daily fire and EMS services,” Weninger wrote in a letter to the county.

By giving notice to the county now, Weninger said that would allow the board to consider whether it has any money in the 2015 budget to participate in any way in fire inspections in the district.

“With the notification given, that could open up the discussion again for us to collaborate on other ideas,” he said.

He said there are a number of scenarios that could take place, including the district doing the inspections with a fee for service attached. He said there is no indication that the district’s two fire inspectors will lose their jobs.

CKF&R does annual inspections of businesses, he added.

“Once a year at every commercial occupancy is the norm,” he said. “If the county takes over, they may not be able to provide as frequent inspections.”

In February, Lynam had asked CKF&R to work jointly with the county to see what services might be provided “consistent with the district’s and the county’s collective financial situation.”

Weninger said many of the fire districts in Kitsap County are experiencing “financial compressions” and he hopes by giving notice of the CKF&R district’s intent to end the agreement, there will be discussions about how annual fire inspections could be afforded.

Lynam acknowledged that CKF&R wants changes to the inter local agreement.

“It could be that they would not be doing inspection at all and that we would do all of them,” he said. “Or it could be some mixed bag in between. It may mean a decreased level of service, such as only inspecting places that have no sprinklers, or going to an every other year inspection. All of these things are what we’ll be discussing.”

He also said they could look at charging businesses a fee for the required inspection.

 

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