Editorial: Fire district cuts costs

North Whidbey Fire and Rescue commissioners are managing to get by with less after voters sent two strong messages last year that more tax revenue isn’t in the offing for now.

After losing twice at the polls with negative margins above 60 percent, the commissioners could have packed it in and just let the department deteriorate as a way as of telling voters “we told you so.” Instead, they bucked up and started doing the best they can with the money available, often heeding the advice of Chief Marv Koorn.

In recent months, the district has closed the San de Fuca fire station and obtained a grant to purchase some badly-needed breathing apparatus. The moves showed that painful cuts can be made, and that the district is vigorously pursuing alternative ways of landing funding.

With expensive new firefighting vehicles out of reach, the decision was made to overhaul existing vehicles instead of purchasing new ones. That paid off when the cost of overhauling the first vehicle, a fire engine, came in at about $40,000. A new fire engine would have cost as much as $350,000 to $400,00. The district is now on a four-year schedule to have existing fire apparatus upgraded.

Meanwhile, the district has launched an ambitious effort to go after federal money, including stimulus program funds, to purchase land and consolidate some fire stations, resulting in long-term savings. There’s a lot of competition for such funds, but the fact North Whidbey Fire and Rescue is fighting for some of it shows taxpayers that the commissioners are making a real effort to find other sources of funding.

Of course, overhauling old equipment and depending on outside grants isn’t a permanent solution to the fire district’s financial problems. What it needs is a steady stream of local tax dollars sufficient to provide for the needs of today and tomorrow. But in the meantime, the commissioners are giving the public the best fire department they can, and operating the best they can with very limited resources. That’s the way to build credibility and confidence in the public, and that’s what it will take to eventually pass a fire district levy increase.

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