What is a fire benefit charge?
The fire benefit charge (FBC) is a fee that is commensurate with the amount of inherent risk that a building poses. The more the risk, the higher the FBC. For example, a large commercial building has a higher risk than a residential home. It is calculated in a formula that uses the square footage of the building to determine the charge that will be applied. It is not a “per call” charge and it is not based on property value; it is a fee which is based on the square footage of your building(s) and the benefit of having fire protection.
Why use a fire benefit charge?
The FBC funds the District’s emergency services by apportioning the cost of providing those services appropriately due to the risk posed by the structure. It also allows the Department to diversify its revenue sources by having two main sources instead of one, which will provide long-term stability for the future. Property taxes only take into consideration the value of the property and not the benefits provided by the fire district. These benefits include lower fire insurance costs which are passed on to the homeowner. Other benefits include charging the cost of specialized equipment and training required by some properties to those owners. By using a FBC, it is believed the costs are more appropriately distributed. For example, two identical houses 50 yards from each other have the same service needs, but because one has a view, and a higher assessed value, the homeowner pays more for fire services. With the FBC, homeowners will pay a similar amount.
How does this effect my annual property tax payments?
Without the FBC the maximum property fire tax levy rate is $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value, which is where we were in 2015. In 2015 we passed the initial FBC and with the FBC in place our maximum allowable fire levy rate is decreased to $1.00. The assumption is that the FBC would augment the fire levy tax revenue to diversify revenue sources. Since 2015, with the FBC and by developing other alternative revenue sources, we have been able to lower the overall equivalent levy rate to about $1.34. However, due to the calculation of the FBC, and the apportioned risks, commercial property owners pay more in their overall payments. This is due to the higher risks and emergency service needs for those properties. Due to those increases, approximately 98% of the homeowners have an overall decrease in their annual payments. The FBC is collected like any other property tax in the County and then is disbursed to us appropriately.
What authority allows for the fire benefit charge?
The 1987 Washington State Legislature passed RCW 52.18. This statute provides that fire districts, with the approval of the voters in the district, are authorized to collect a FBC from residential and business property owners. This legislation also requires the District to hold a public hearing regarding the proposal to impose a FBC prior to the election authorizing its use. This hearing must be held no more than sixty days nor less than 10 days before the election. The law also provides that the FBC shall be reasonably proportioned to the benefits received by the property resulting from the services provided by the fire district.
Why is the square footage of my home different than what I have listed?
The square footage of your property listed on your FBC letter includes areas of all structures such as garages, basements, etc. This data is derived from the King County property database and there is a link to that database on our website if you would like to check it for accuracy. If it is incorrect than fill out an appeal form and it will be reviewed. It includes all square footage because it takes into consideration the risk of all structures when computing the overall FBC.
Who establishes the fire benefit charge and what does it cover?
RCW 52.18 provides that the Board of the Fire Commissioners may fix and impose a FBC on personal property and improvements to real property. The FBC imposed by the District does not apply to vacant land or personal property. The FBC is applied to improvements such as residential, commercial, and other permanent structures affixed to the land. The statute also provides for certain exemptions, such as:
- Personal property not used in business
- Property that is the subject of a contract for services with the District, including publicly owned buildings
- Property used for religious purposes by a recognized religious organization
- Property which maintains its own fire department
In general, how does the fire benefit charge work?
The FBC typically has two components, which establish the measurable benefits to the property. The components are based on the square footage of a building and the building’s use. This determines the fire flow needed. The fire flow benefit describes in a broad sense the firefighting efforts necessary for a fire department to put out a fire in a specific structure. The fire flow benefit takes into financial consideration the demands a particular structure could place upon a fire department. The criteria used to establish the “fire flow” have been empirically determined by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), Insurance Services Office (ISO) and the Washington Fire Rating Bureau. Using the formula established by these agencies, a “fire flow” is determined. That number is coupled with a “category factor” based on the building’s use and a “cost per gallon” determined by fire district needs. It sounds complicated, but essentially once broken down it is a cost per square foot of a building multiplied by the type of building with the riskier structures paying a higher FBC.
How will the governance of a fire benefit charge impact the average homeowner?
It will provide a continued level of dependable fire service by maintaining well-equipped Firefighters; and because the homeowner will have a regular voice in the FBC, the homeowner will have greater control over the cost of fire service.
How long is the fire benefit charge in effect?
The FBC can be in effect for six-years, ten-years, or permanently. The ballot measure in April is for re-authorizing the FBC for ten-years. After ten-years, it will need to be put back in front of voters to again re-authorize, similar to our efforts this year.
Can I calculate my own fire benefit charge?
Yes, but it is a bit complicated. For example, the formula for a residential home is: (√sq footage) x (fire flow) x (category factor) x (fire flow benefit factor) x (discounts) = FBC
- Take the square root of the square footage of the building(s) that are part of your tax record.
- Multiply the result by the “fire flow” factor, which is 18.
- Multiply the result by the “category factor”, which is .57594 (this is the residential factor for a house up to 5,000 sq ft, but a full list of factors can be provided by the fire department).
- Multiply the result by the “fire flow benefit factor”, currently estimated at $.5729872.
- Multiply result by .9 if you qualify for a sprinkler discount, or the senior citizen discount if you qualify. You can go to the King County website to check for qualification at King County’s website.
For example, the calculation of a 1,500 square foot house with no discounts would be:(√1,500) x 18 x (.57594) x ($.5729872) = $230.06 FBC
Are there any discounts or exemptions?
Yes. If your home or business has a functioning fire sprinkler system covering the entire structure, you will qualify for a reduction on your FBC. If you are a low-income senior citizen you may qualify for additional reductions on your FBC and property taxes.