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North Whidbey Fire and Rescue Chief proposes closure of Silver Lake fire station

The days of Silver Lake Fire Station may be numbered.

North Whidbey Fire and Rescue Chief Marv Koorn asked the district board of commissioners to consider the closure of either the Silver Lake Station 23 or perhaps the Polnell Fire Station 22 as a cost-saving measure.

The Silver Lake property was purchased in 1974 and the station built one year later; Island County donated the Polnell property to the department in 1980 and the station was constructed the same year.

Silver Lake’s closure would mean a savings of $6,000 to $7,500 each year in terms of maintenance and operations, plus roughly an additional $40,000 will also be saved each year in equipment costs. One less station means less equipment to purchase, pay off and maintain, Koorn said.

There’s currently a 1999 rescue truck at Silver Lake. The structure itself isn’t a cost burden.

“The station is cheap; we own it,” he said.

“If you looked at the response time, it’s not a fast-responding station,” Koorn said of Silver Lake. “With the history and where 23 is, that’s the one we should close.”

About 12 to 15 family homes would be affected by the closure, if the commissioners approve Koorn’s request.

Paid-on-call and volunteer firefighters who currently respond to Silver Lake Fire Station would be re-assigned to stations 22 or 24, Koorn said.

The discussion brought forward concerns over the number of engines versus the number of stations.

North Whidbey currently has six engines and seven stations, Koorn said.

In 2003 the board approved a decrease in fire engines. It wasn’t until 2008 that the decision took effect after an engine aged out of the system.

Board Chairman Bruce Carman carefully considered the public’s perception of the upcoming action.

“If we close it and there’s no engine, are we deceiving people?” he asked.

Carman also questioned the effect the closure may have on the community’s insurance rates. Commissioners T.J. Lamont and Jerry Goen both said the insurance issue was not a big concern.

Goen said the priority should be providing the best possible service to the community.

“I think we have to look at our taxpayers and give them the best that we can,” he said. “We need to look at what part of the community is impacted.”

Only one station is slated for closure, but more may need to be mothballed if the department can’t increase its revenues.

“There’s a real risk of that if we can’t increase our income through a levy lift or other means,” Koorn said.

“We’re OK for this year,” he said. But the looming 2011 budget doesn’t look good.

Contracts with the state parks department, Whidbey General Hospital and other agencies are this year’s budget-balancing lifeline.

Lamont suggested diverting money from other department programs — such as water rescue — to support the station, but Koorn said that wouldn’t be a worthwhile use of money.

The commissioners tabled the decision until their next meeting. Chief Koorn will present additional information on the closure at the commissioners’ request.

The department hopes to sell the San de Fuca station, which shut down in February 2009. It’ll likely go on the market next fall, Koorn said.

The San de Fuca, Silver Lake and Polnell station properties are currently being appraised.

If, and when, the next station is closed the department will hold onto the property for six months to one year before putting it on the market, he said.

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