The headquarters of Key Peninsula Fire District 16 may move to a new home — someday.
“This is just the start of the process and it is going to take some time,” said Fire Commissioner Stan Moffett. “We haven’t made any decisions yet other than to explore the possibilities.”
The current headquarters located in Key Center is unmanned as it lacks overnight facilities. Training exercises regularly take place as people drive through the parking lot where Moffett cited both space and safety as concerns.
“The building has pretty much reached its tenure and remodeling is not an option,” Moffett said. “If the board determines that building is feasible, it would lead to putting together a bond because we don’t have the resources to build a new station like that without one.”
The board asked Chief Dustin Morrow, hired in early 2019, to begin formulating what a bond program would look like.
“Our organization has been working from behind for a long time,” Morrow said. “All we’ve done is react. There has been no planning. The process we’re talking about is buried in a 10-year forecast but we did not have everything in a strategic plan moving us forward. Now we are making decisions based on a 10-year plan with contingencies laid out for various outcomes, and we still have some pieces to finish.”
Some of those pieces include additional staffing of both career and volunteer personnel, the kind of thing that would come with a successful lid lift levy, a measure Morrow said will be put to voters August 3. The regular fire levy authorized at $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value is now down to around $1.23. Morrow said lifting the lid would generate about $1 million dollars a year for the department.
Annual increases in district levy revenue are restricted by a property tax limit that reduces the maximum collected as property values rise. The result is that most taxing district levy rates fall below the authorized level. A levy limit can be increased only by a “lid lift” approved by voters.
“But buildings are big ticket items that are supposed to be 30- to 40-year placements in the community,” Morrow said. “The department is out of space, headquarters (is) falling down around us, and it’s time to do something about it.”
The board of fire commissioners secured a right of first refusal to purchase just over 3.5 acres in Key Center for what could become the site of the new fire district headquarters. Morrow said discussions are underway on how to finalize that purchase and the district is investigating short-term financing as a bridge to a bond.
If the board chooses to put a capital bond before the community, and it passes, the Key Center fire station would relocate to the new building at that site.
The board selected the Bremerton architectural firm Rice Fergus Miller, Inc. to conduct preliminary feasibility studies to assist the board’s development of a capital facilities plan, following a unanimous vote at its regular board meeting April 13 held via Zoom.
The bond would also include a bona fide fire station on Herron Island, plus additional development on the mainland side of the ferry terminal for a vessel dedicated to emergency response independent of the island’s private ferry system.
“The fact is the people on Herron Island are paying the same amount of taxes as everyone else (in the fire district)” Morrow said. “They deserve a responsible individual that is planning emergency services out there. The bottom line is that it’s going to take time. But I want to be transparent about the issue: They deserve it just like you and I do.”
The rest of the bond would fund major upgrades to the remaining fire stations that are long past their life cycle and need to be replaced in some cases — mostly traditional systems like heating, cooling, safety, security, lighting and roofs.
“In a short period of time we’ve matured this organization to get away from being reactive and all over the map, to being largely centered now in a plan with some appropriate forecasting and responsible decision making,” Morrow said. “The last piece is really just the lid lift and the bond question. If we get those two things, I’m telling you, we are going to be above water for a long time.”
UNDERWRITTEN BY NEWSMATCH/MIAMI FOUNDATION, THE ANGEL GUILD, ROTARY CLUB OF GIG HARBOR, ADVERTISERS, DONORS AND PEOPLE WHO SUPPORT LOCAL, INDEPENDENT NONPROFIT NEWS