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Survey shows 73 percent in favor of $17 million bond measure for Bainbridge Island Fire Department

Bainbridge Island residents strongly support a $17 million bond measure to pay for new and rebuilt fire halls for the Bainbridge Island Fire Department, according to a random survey of islanders conducted by the polling firm of CFM.

Consultants with the Portland, Oregon-based company presented the results of the survey, conducted June 16-17, to the fire department's board of commissioners Tuesday.

The survey found that 73 percent of those polled favor the bond measure, with 43 percent of respondents strongly favoring the bond measure, which would pay for the replacement of the fire department's headquarters station on Madison Avenue and the island's south end fire hall on NE Bucklin Hill Road. The bond would also finance needed improvements at the department's north end fire hall on Phelps Road.

Tom Eiland, a principal with CFM, said the survey numbers were "pretty impressive," and said there was "strong support" for the bond proposal.

The bond measure would require a 60-percent "yes" vote to pass.

"You're 13 points above that benchmark," Eiland said.

People polled were told the new facilities would be financed by a 20-year, $17 million bond that would raise assessed values by 20 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.

According to the survey, 16 percent of respondents opposed the bond measure and 12 percent were undecided.

Eiland told the fire board to consider the 12 percent who were undecided as "no" voters.

Those who opposed or were undecided about the potential ballot measure were split on their reasons on why they did not support it.

A total of 31 percent said the new facilities and improvements were not needed; 27 percent said they wanted to know more about the proposal; and 22 percent said the measure was costly and unaffordable.

Eiland said the opposition numbers appeared to reflect anti-tax sentiments.

Bainbridge fire officials have been pursuing the idea of a joint facility that would be shared by both the fire department and the Bainbridge Island Police Department. Bainbridge police are eager to move from their existing home on Winslow Way, an outdated facility that lacks adequate space for the department's essential functions.

The survey also asked residents if they supported the idea of a joint police/fire building, and the poll found strong support for the notion. A total of 72 percent of respondents favored a joint facility on Madison Avenue, and more than 60 percent of all demographic groups that were polled supported a combined facility.

That 72 percent level of support climbed to 87 percent when respondents were told a combined facility would reduce construction, operating and maintenance costs.

Most of those who were polled said the most important thing to consider about the levy measure was the current state of the fire department's facilities, and that buildings could be damaged during an earthquake and impact the work of emergency responders.

In other good news for Bainbridge fire officials, the survey found the fire department has a strong level of support across the island. According to the survey, 84 percent rated the overall performance of the fire department as "excellent" or "very good."

Across all demographic groups, more than 75 percent rated the department's performance as "excellent" or "very good."

The numbers got even better for those with direct experience with the Bainbridge Island Fire Department. More than 90 percent of those who had personal contact with the department rated its performance as "excellent" or "very good."

"People seem to be very pleased with the service they are receiving from the fire department," Eiland said.

"You're not going to get much higher than this," he said, adding that a campaign to improve the fire department's reputation wasn't needed before the election.

The survey results were based on phone interviews with 200 randomly selected Bainbridge residents, and included interviewees reached by cell phone. About 15 percent of respondents were contacted on their cell phones.

The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 7.1 percent.

Eiland also told commissioners to focus their campaign message on just a few issues — such as the why the new facilities are needed and the potential harm to the existing fire stations in the event of an earthquake — so voters would recall a few concise reasons for voting for the measure.

The fire department should also remember that the local newspaper is the primary source for local residents, Eiland said.

When asked for their main source of local news, 48 percent of those polled named the Bainbridge Island Review.

Approximately 10 percent said the Kitsap Sun; 5 percent said the Seattle Times; and 5 percent said the blogging website Inside Bainbridge.

Eiland also cautioned fire officials to work to maintain the community's support through Election Day.

"Don't be overconfident over the next several months," he said.

The fire board commissioners have until early August to pass a resolution calling for the ballot measure to be placed on the November ballot.

If a decision is made for a fall election, it is likely to happen at the board's July 22 meeting.

Bainbridge Fire Chief Hank Teran was heartened by the survey results

"As the fire chief, I think our membership does an outstanding job," he said. "Our career, our volunteer members provide outstanding service. The comments I get back from the public who approach me say, 'Thank you for the job that you do.'"

"It's nice, though, to see a third party, independent validate what I as a fire chief believe," he said.

Teran said he wasn't surprised at the support that was found for a combined police/fire facility. Talk about a joint facility has been underway for more than a year.

"The public seems to be very supportive — and appreciative — of the fact that we're looking [at the idea]," Teran said.

He said he did not have a preference for a combined facility or a new stand-alone headquarters station for the fire department.

"I have a preference to seeing the process work its way out. We haven't gotten there yet," Teran said. "We're still in the fact-finding stages."

 

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