More thoughts on fire levy/Lights, action

More thoughts on fire levy

How long is “temporary”? And who’s to say that it is,

in fact, not permanent?

We may have created some confusion in recent reportage on the Bainbridge Island Fire Department’s upcoming levy lid lift proposal -- set to go before voters in an all-mail ballot on Sept. 20 -- to raise $2.271 million over six years for the purchase of new fire trucks and apparatus.

In the headline over our July 8 story, we cited the fire department’s commitment that the levy would be “temporary” -- quotes added by us, for reasons that are now unclear. In retrospect, it occurs to us that the qualifier was unnecessary, and we should set the record straight to allay any confusion.

Washington state law (RCW 84.55.050, for the legalists) allows taxing districts like the fire department to raise their tax property levy “lid” for limited periods and specific purposes, with voter approval. Such propositions must coincide with a primary or general election, hence the September date.

The temporary nature of the lid lift is operative. Last year, the fire department asked for a permanent lid lift -- emphasis ours -- and voters singed the department’s collective behind. A citizen watchdog group and others correctly objected that the levy request was one step short of a blank check, an infusion of tax money for purposes only vaguely defined.

Since then, fire officials have gone out of their way to respond to those complaints. Bloated reserves are being drawn down to forestall the need for more cash for general operations for at least five years. User fees for advanced-life support transport are being considered, and other financial policies changed.

And most significantly, they abandoned plans for a permanent tax hike for one-time purchases like fire trucks. We’ll be doing some additional reportage on the state of the department’s fleet; in the meantime, we can say with certainty that if any citizens want to swing by their local fire hall, firefighters will gladly offer some off-the-cuff tours and explain the need. Don’t let the polish on the trucks fool you; some of them are getting pretty high on the odometer.

For now, understand that the levy would be temporary not because the fire department says so. It’s the law.

Lights, action

A tie may be like kissing your sibling, but we’re confident soccer fans and astronomers can survive a quick peck.

Last week’s decision by the park board to improve the Battle Point soccer fields, sans overhead lights, strikes us as a good compromise – what the soccer folks like to call a “draw.”

The move is responsive to soccer needs and resolves what had become a contentious debate between user groups, yet shifts the question of lighted fields back to school grounds, where such facilities are probably a better fit.

School officials have meanwhile quietly repositioned their own levy plans to 2006, so now would be a good time to sit down with the soccer club to see if field improvements might be worked into the construction levy.

That would be better than a tie – everyone wins.

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