By Erin Freeman | Lynnwood Times Staff
South County Fire is asking regional voters to consider a benefit charge during the November 3rd General Election.
If passed, the benefit charge will allow South County Fire to base a property’s emergency services costs based upon its size and use. Right now, the amount a household pays for emergency services is dependent on the value and location of the property.
“That’s not a balanced approach,” said South County Fire Chief Thad Hovis. “It takes the same for us to defend the same amount of space in a fire.”
The benefit charge considers this, with the emergency services price tag based upon the size of a property, rather than its assessed value. Thus, property owners would pay the same for properties of equal size. Currently, two properties of the same size could pay a very different price for emergency services depending on where they’re located and values, as property owners pay a levy of up to $1.28 per $1,000 of assessed property value. Under the benefit charge, this would decrease to $1.00 per $1,000. Seniors, disabled persons, and low-income households maintain any current exemptions they have through the county.
Property types will also be taken into consideration under the benefit charge, as “it takes fewer firefighters and apparatuses to put out a fire in a single-family home than a larger multi-family structure office building,” noted Hovis.
A benefit charge has been around since 1987, the first agency adopting it being Northshore Fire Department in 1988. Since then, voters in more than a dozen Washington communities including Shoreline, Woodinville, Kenmore, Lake Forest Park, and Renton have approved a benefit charge, believing it to be a fairer way to fund emergency services.
Recently visiting multiple agencies with approved benefit charges, Chief Hovis says that all of those visited have always been able to pass it and get it reapproved by their voters, believing it to be a great thing that provides relief to residential customers and stability of revenue.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Chief Hovis had the opportunity to talk with South County Fire’s Board of Commissioners about the local economic difficulties the community was facing. The benefit charge is one way believed to be an opportunity to provide some support and a bit of stability.
South County Fire Commissioners intend to set the benefit charge at a rate that will reduce property tax revenue by $1.3 million next year. This is possible because of increased revenue the fire authority is receiving to provide service to Medicaid patients.
If passed, South County Fire anticipates that approximately 96% of homeowners are expected to pay less or the same with a benefit charge in 2021 compared to the traditional fire levy funding model.
Property owners can compare what they pay now to what they would pay with a benefit charge using a calculator on the fire authority’s website at www.southsnofire.org/ElectionInfo.
South County Fire is hosting two virtual meetings to answer questions about a possible benefit charge via Zoom on October 15 at 6:00 p.m. and October 22 at 7:00 a.m. Instructions, call-in numbers and links are posted on the South County Fire website at www.southsnofire.org/ElectionInfo.