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Fire department mulls levy options as officials look ahead

Fire fighters run drills at Station 23 on Phelps Road. The fire department would like to open the station more often. - Photo courtesy of the Bainbridge Island Fire Department
Fire fighters run drills at Station 23 on Phelps Road. The fire department would like to open the station more often.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of the Bainbridge Island Fire Department

The Bainbridge Island Fire Department continues to strategize for future emergency needs, but those needs may come at a cost.

“We are not just trying to maintain what we have, but prepare for the future of the island,” said Fire Chief Hank Teran. “In these economic times, it’s tough to do.”

The issues of funding the fire department have risen while it updates its strategic plan, a frequently modified plan that covers the department’s needs and functions.

Involved in the update are possible changes to station availability and staffing levels.

“The department is looking at how to sustain the service we have at our two stations and open the third station as much as possible, while also understanding our current economics,” Teran said.

But any changes to future funding of the island’s emergency services will likely require raising already established levies for the department and emergency medical services.

To do that, the department’s five-member board of commissioners will need to give its approval.

The possibility of raising the general fire levy or the EMS levy is on the table.

How much, however, is unclear.

Teran and his staff provided the board of commissioners with a few options at their last meeting on Wednesday, April 17.

Currently, residents are taxed at 40 cents for an EMS levy, and 90 cents for a general fire levy, for every $1,000 in property value.

But if the fire department does not seek to raise any levies, it won’t have enough funding to maintain its staffing levels after 2019.

Officials note that if the department asks for a general fire levy lift of 10 cents in 2015, and another lift of 10 cents for the EMS levy in 2019, it could maintain current staffing levels.

Fire department staff didn’t stop there, however, and offered a couple more ideas to plan for the future needs of Bainbridge Island.

If the general fire levy was raised by 15 cents in 2015, then the department could add four new lieutenants and add three battalion chiefs. This would equate to opening Station 23 on Phelps Road more often.

In the first quarter of 2013, Station 23 was opened on 13 occasions for varying periods of time up to 24 hours. With more staff, the station could be more active on the north end of the island.

Currently, the department has two stations — Station 21 on Madison Avenue and Station 22 on Bucklin Hill Road — that are open around the clock, every day of the week.

If the fire department asked for 3 more cents on top of all the other options, then it could also fund a medical services officer to oversee paramedics and emergency medical programs on the island.

Fire commissioners are planning to take a more intensive look at possibilities. Specifically, commissioners would like to see estimates for how much a levy would have to be altered to open Station 23 at 50 percent of the time.

Fire department staff will return with the estimates at a future meeting sometime between May and July, Teran said.

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