CONTINUING THE FIRE BENEFIT CHARGE
Proposition 1 asks voters to decide on the continuation of the Fire Benefit Charge. The Fire Benefit Charge currently makes up over 40% of our operating budget and was voter-approved in 2016. The law requires organizations to reauthorize a benefit charge six years after it was initially approved. For that reason, the Renton RFA Governance Board unanimously agreed to bring the measure to Renton voters on the November 2nd ballot.
The Fire Benefit Charge (FBC) funds…
The FBC funds adequate staffing levels to meet the needs of our growing community, including firefighter salaries, benefits, and initial and on-going training.
The FBC funds the purchase and maintenance of fire engines, aid units, special operations vehicles, and fire and life safety equipment.
The FBC funds the construction, maintenance, and remodel of new and existing stations to ensure the safety of our members and the community.
The FBC funds programs such as Public Education, Fire Investigation, and FD CARES – which proactively helps vulnerable community members.
FIVE PROPOSITION 1 QUICK FACTS
If Proposition 1 does not pass, there will be a 40% gap in the Renton RFA budget. That gap will have to be filled through an increase in property tax and/or a reduction in service levels.
LEARN MORE ABOUT PROPOSITION 1
It is important that you understand Proposition 1 and what will happen if it is approved or rejected. Our in-house experts are available to answer your questions, or even provide a virtual or in-person presentation to your group or association to help you learn more. Below are a few ways to get your questions answered about Proposition 1:
PROPOSITION 1 – FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Below are some of the most frequently asked questions regarding Proposition 1. However, if you do not see the answer you’re looking for or any of these answers don’t make sense to you, we strongly encourage you to reach out to us using the methods mentioned in the section above. Our friendly team of experts will be happy to help answer all of your questions!
On the November 2, 2021, General Election ballot, voters will be asked to approve or reject Proposition No. 1. The measure states: “Shall Renton Regional Fire Authority be authorized to continue the voter-authorized benefit charges each year for ten consecutive years beginning in 2023, in an amount not to exceed an amount equal to sixty percent of its operating budget, and be prohibited from imposing an additional property tax under RCW 52.26.140(1)(c)?”
State law provides that after a benefit charge is initially approved, it must be reapproved by the voters after six (6) years. The RFA’s voters initially approved the benefit charge in 2016. Without voter re-authorization, the benefit charge will expire at the end of 2022.
The benefit charge supports 41% of the RFA’s 2021 budget.
No. Voters previously authorized the RFA to collect a fire benefit charge in 2016. This is not new, it simply reauthorizes the existing voter-approved fee, ensuring funding to maintain emergency response times and services levels.
The Renton Regional Fire Authority (RFA) is a separate local government that provides emergency medical and fire protection services to the over 135,000 residents and businesses within the City of Renton, King County Fire District 25 (FD 25) and King County Fire District 40 (FD 40).
Over 60% of voters in Renton and FD 25 approved creation of the RFA in 2016. The RFA staffs seven fire stations 24/7 across its approximately 33 square mile service area.
The RFA is governed by a six-person board, consisting of three Renton City Councilmembers and three Fire District 25 Commissioners. There is also one non-voting member representing FD 40.
The RFA is proud to hold a Public Protection Class Rating (PPCR) of 2. The PPCR is a representation of a fire agency’s ability to provide effective fire and life safety services to their community (1 represents an excellent fire protection system, and 10 indicates virtually no protection). The RFA is in the top 5% of fire and life safety agencies in the nation for service quality. This rating translates to lower fire insurance premiums for homes and businesses.
The RFA’s operations are funded by a mix of voter-approved revenues, grants and fees. The two largest funding sources are the fire benefit charge (FBC) and a fire levy. Together, these two funding sources equal 81 percent of the 2021 budget.
- The fire benefit charge provides approximately 40% of the RFA’s revenues. Revenue collected from the FBC has stayed about the same in each of the last four years.
- The fire levy provides approximately 41% of the RFA’s revenues.
Because the RFA has a FBC, its fire levy capacity (a property tax) is reduced by one-third what would otherwise be allowed: the fire levy cannot exceed $1.00 per $1,000 in assessed value. As property values rise, the levy rate declines. The fire levy was first imposed at $1.00 per $1,000 of assessed value in 2016. The current fire levy rate is approximately $0.81 per $1,000 in assessed value.
Other funding sources for the RFA include:
- An allocation from the regional Medic One levy
- Grants to offset costs of transporting uninsured and low-income individuals to hospital
- Fees for service (fire marshal office, transport fees, etc.)
A fire benefit charge (FBC) is a fee – not a property tax. It is a user fee designed to allocate the cost of the services provided by the RFA in reasonable proportion to the measurable benefit a property receives.
The FBC is based on a standard industry accepted formula that takes into consideration the size, use and fire risk for a structure. Unlike property tax, the FBC is not based on property value.
Under the FBC, larger, more complex structures that require a larger, more complex fire response generally pay more. Single family residential and small commercial properties that require a less complex response generally pay less. Vacant parcels of land with no structures on them are not subject to a FBC, and other exemptions (similar to property tax exemptions) apply.
The RFA Governing Board determined that a fire benefit charge (FBC), in conjunction with lower property tax levels, provides the most stable, reliable and cost-effective method for financing the operations of the RFA and maintaining current levels of service.
A FBC provides stable funding, even in times of uncertainty or if property values increase considerably as we’ve seen over recent years. And, if property values decline, the FBC can be relied on to maintain a consistent source of funding for fire and life safety services. The FBC is a stable cost for property owners and is a stable source of funding for the RFA. Imposition of a FBC also means that the RFA’s fire levy authority is lower, reduced by one third, or $0.50 per thousand of assessed valuation.
Yes, voters approved fire benefit charges (FBC’s) in seven other fire agencies in central Puget Sound, including Puget Sound Regional Fire Authority (serving Kent, SeaTac and Maple Valley), Valley Regional Fire Authority (serving Auburn, Pacific and Milton), King County Fire District 40 (served by Renton RFA), Duvall-King County Fire District 45, Woodinville Fire & Rescue, Central Pierce Fire & Rescue, and Graham Fire & Rescue.
The RFA would explore the reasons that the measure was rejected and would likely go back to the voters again in 2022, before the existing fire benefit charge (FBC) expires.
If the benefit charge expires, by law, the RFA’s property tax rate will increase by approximately $.50 per $1,000 of assessed valuation over the approximate current rate of $0.81 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. The amount raised by the statutory property tax increase will not replace the amount of funding generated by the fire benefit charge (over 40% our our current budget) and the RFA may be required to reduce service levels.
The fire benefit charge (FBC) is calculated using a standard industry formula based on the amount of water (“fire flow”) that is delivered to a fire scene. The formula also takes into account the square footage of structures on a property, the amount of resources (personnel and equipment) required to respond to a fire and any particularly high fire-risk uses of the structure.
The formula first considers the structure size: based on gross square footage, considering the outside building measurements and including all floors, basements, garages, mezzanines and outbuildings over 400 square feet in size.
The formula next considers the structure type (four basic categories): residential (single family or duplex); manufactured homes; multifamily; and commercial (includes industrial facilities).
Finally, the formula considers the risk associated with a structure: in terms of response resources needed (personnel and equipment), and whether there are any offsetting factors to that risk (such as the presence of a sprinkler system or fire alarm system) that would qualify for a reduction or discount.
The fire benefit charge formula is generally:
(The square root of the square footage X 18*) X (category factor) X (response factor) X (discount) X (fire flow factor)
- *18 is a coefficient value based on testing by the Insurance Services Organization (ISO)
The fire benefit charge is higher when a structure houses products or uses involving a high risk of combustion or high temperatures and/or if there are large quantities of flammable/combustible or hazardous materials on site.
There are several exemptions under state law that apply to the fire benefit charge (FBC). Religious institutional facilities (churches, schools), nonprofit and public housing for seniors, low-income residents and persons with disabilities, and vacant land and/or parcels with structures under 400 square feet are all generally exempt. In addition, low-income persons that qualify for exemptions from all or a portion of property taxes may also qualify for an exemption from a portion of the FBC.
Each year, the RFA Governing Board holds a public hearing to set the fire benefit charges (FBC) for all properties in the RFA for the next year. The RFA then sends a notice to each property owner of their benefit charge for the year, by early December.
Each property owner subject to the FBC pays this fee the same way they currently pay property tax—through their mortgage payment or a bill from the King County Assessor.
An annual appeals process is required by law. The RFA Governing Board hears and rules on any written complaints submitted. Appeals can be submitted in person, online or over the phone.
To learn more about Proposition 1 (or the Fire Benefit Charge), you can check out the in-depth Fire Benefit Charge section of our website (click here). You can also request a virtual or in-person presentation from one of our team members (click here), give us a call directly at 425-276-9500 to have your questions answered over the phone, or send us an email using our online form (click here).