Correction: This article has been updated to clarify that KPFD does not pay property tax.
The Key Peninsula Fire District closed on its second piece of Key Center real estate Dec. 15, agreeing to pay $1.2 million for the property known historically as the Olson estate: the residence between Sound Credit Union and Sunnycrest Nursery on KP Highway NW, including part of the pasture behind it, with an eye toward building a new headquarters and fire training facility.
The district also purchased the former site of O’Callahan’s (aka Buck’s and Reed’s) restaurant at the intersection of KP Highway NW and Olson Drive NW in November for $950,000.
“The board began talking about this whole issue about five years ago,” said Fire Commission Chair Stan Moffett. “We understood at that time our headquarters facility was past the point where it can be remodeled. We talked to the Citizens Advisory Panel, we looked at all the inadequacies and problems there, and we decided at that point that we wanted to move forward in looking at developing a new facility.”
The Olson estate became available over the last year, as did the O’Callahan property toward the end of summer.
“We looked at that and decided we needed to get that as well,” Moffett said. “At that point in time, we were looking at building a larger facility, a large administrative office with community meeting rooms, a large training area, and possibly even a clinic.”
The commissioners plan to lease out both properties through a management company in the short term while figuring out what kind of facility, if any, to build.
“It’s not legal for us to get into the building investment business,” Moffett said. “However, what we have done in buying a piece of property for future use for the fire department, with an interim situation of having the opportunity to lease it out to offset the investment, is perfectly legal. It has to do with the intent.”
Over the past six months the district has been working with Rice, Fergus, Miller — the same Bremerton architecture firm that designed The Mustard Seed Project in Key Center — to come up with a facilities plan. “Once we have that report we’ll need to make some decisions on what we actually want to price out to do,” Moffett said. “We would not be in a position to start moving any dirt on anything for probably 46 to 60 months out.”
Moffett said he understood why there may be frustration in the community about the department buying commercial property in Key Center, especially after voters raised their own taxes by passing a 6-year fire levy lid lift in August, but there is also some misinformation out there.
“We pay property tax on all the property we have, so they’re not going to be taken off the tax rolls,” he said. “The loan we made is for about 1.8% and there’s no penalty for early payoff. So, if we decide that we don’t want to do any of this, we’re going to sell those properties and repay the loan.”
KP News later confirmed fire districts do not pay property tax but do pay county fees for waste water and weed control, according to the Pierce County Assessor-Treasurer's office. Moffett apologised and said he did not intend to provide incorrect information.
Commissioner Shawn Jensen said he was sympathetic to community skepticism.
“I understand their feelings about it right after the levy,” he said. “I’m pretty tax averse myself and generally don’t like them. But in my mind the local taxing districts are where you get the best bang for your bucks. If it makes sense for our community, it’s not like we’re sending money elsewhere.
“But with regard to the timing of the thing; it’s unfortunate but that’s just when the parcels became available,” he said. “And if we got a couple years down the road and the community is dead set against doing anything there, we always have the option of putting those parcels right back on the market and letting them go.”
If a new facility is built, whether or not it will go to a public vote for funding depends on the price tag.
“If we’re getting into the 10, 12 million dollar range, in all probability we’d have to go out for a public voted bond,” Moffett said. “If we were going to do something more modest, in the neighborhood of five, six, seven million, there’s a good possibility we could do a loan.”
He pointed out that the current headquarters, Station 46, would then be available to sell.
“The credit union is planning on doing some things; my understanding is in the next 18 to 24 months,” Moffett said. “With their new buildings and 46 across the street being redeveloped or torn down or whatever the case might be, then we’d start having a nice little business district right in downtown Key Center.”
Editor’s note: The Olson estate property was incorrectly identified in our December edition article, “Interim Fire Chief Appointed as District Faces Major Expansion Decisions.” We regret the error.
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