Benefit Charge FAQs
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Benefit Charge?
The Benefit Charge (BC) is a voter-approved funding option available to Fire Districts to pay for fire and emergency service operations. A BC replaces a portion of the property tax that a Fire District otherwise collects. Unlike property taxes, a BC is a fee, not a tax.
The BC is calculated based on required firefighting resources, the size of the building(s) on a property and the hazards associated with those building(s). In contrast, a property tax is based on the assessed value of buildings and land, and does not take into account needed resources, building sizes or associated hazards.
Because a BC is based on the resources required in a fire response, larger, more complex structures pay more. This means that residential and mobile home properties generally pay less and multi-family and commercial businesses generally pay more than they do under a funding structure that relies solely on property taxes.
Standard property tax exemptions and discounts also apply to a BC: low-income seniors, low-income persons and person with disabilities, religious institutions, public schools, publicly owned properties, housing authority properties and vacant land and/or parcels with structures under 400 square feet.
How is the Benefit Charge Assessed?
The Benefit Charge (BC) is based on a mathematical formula applied to each property. The formula is commonly used by Fire Districts in Washington State where voters have approved a BC.
The key factors of the formula are square footage of built structures on the property (both residential and commercial), and for commercial properties, any additional specific hazards on site.
Each property is placed into one of four categories (each with different risk profiles):
- Mobile homes in a park, located on a pad
- Single family residential
- Commercial properties
- Multi-Family properties
The specific formula to calculate the BC is:
Benefit Charge = √ of total square feet x (18)* x (category factor) x (response factor) x (risk factor) x (fire flow factor) x (discount)
*18 is a coefficient value based on empirical tests by the Insurance Service Organization (ISO) beginning in the 1950’s and continuing to be updated.
*√ of total square feet is the gross square footage (measuring the outside of the building) for all structures over 400 sq. ft. located on your property. This includes garages, basements (both finished and unfinished), mezzanines, and any other structure that meets the 400 sq. ft. size.
For more detailed information about how the Benefit Charge is calculate, please view this formula worksheet.
Each property will be assessed a little differently due to size, risk, response, etc. To learn the exact impact for your property, please email Chief Todd Jensen at BenefitCharge@GrahamFire.org.
The following is an example of how the BC impacts a typical single family homeowner in our District:
The total amount a property owner will pay for fire and EMS each year in the combination of BC and property tax will depend on:
- the value of their land and buildings subject to property tax,
- the type of improvements on the property, and
- whether/how those improvements are subject to the BC.
The combined tax and BC cost for any property owner will depend on the value of their property and the nature of the improvements on the property. Generally, residential and mobile home properties pay less and multi-family and commercial businesses pay more than they do under a funding structure that relies solely on property taxes.
How long will the Benefit Charge be collected?
The Benefit Charge will be in place for six years, at which point voters must again decide whether to extend it. A six-or 10-year extension requires simple majority voter approval; a permanent extension requires 60% voter approval.
Is there a limit to the amount of revenue that can be collected through the Benefit Charge?
Yes. State law caps the total amount of revenue that can be collected through a Benefit Charge (BC) to no more than 60 percent of the Fire District’s total operating budget. The remaining operating budget must be secured through other means such as property taxes, fees, grants, etc.
Typically, fire agencies do not come close to the 60% threshold for a BC. For the more than 20 years Central Pierce Fire & Rescue has had a BC, it has consistently covered around 25% of their total operating budget. Similarly, Graham Fire & Rescue is proposing a financial plan for the BC to cover approximately 25% of the total operating budget.
Each year, Graham Fire & Rescue will establish the amount of revenue to be recovered under the BC and notice all property owners of their specific BC for the upcoming year. An appeals process is provided allowing any property owner to challenge their individual BC.
How will the Benefit Charge be collected?
Each property owner subject to the Benefit Charge (BC) will pay this fee the same way they pay property tax—through mortgage payment or Pierce County Assessor bill. Graham Fire & Rescue will send an annual notice of their BC for the following year to each property owner in January.
What if I have concerns with the Benefit Charge allocated to my property?
Property owners have the opportunity to appeal their individual Benefit Charge assessment during a two week appeals process in January. A review board will hear and rule on any written complaints submitted.
Appeals can be submitted in person, online or over the phone. Once the Benefit Charge (BC) is set and written annual notification is provided to each property owner, an annual appeals process is required. Graham Fire & Rescue will establish a review board to hear and rule on any written complaints submitted. If voters approve a BC in November 2020, the first appeals process will begin in January 2021. Appeals can be submitted in person, online or over the phone.
Does Graham Fire & Rescue anticipate future service or budget increases?
Graham Fire & Rescue has seen a significant increase in service calls over the last decade. In 2019, the agency responded to 7,323 calls for service—over 40 percent more than in 2010.
To meet that demand, in 2018, voters approved a four-year (2019-2022) Maintenance & Operations (M&O) to hire 18 new firefighters, recruit/train 14 volunteer firefighters and buy a second water-carrying truck (known as a fire tender). The additional firefighters and tender are all on board and serving the public. No other service changes are anticipated during the next five years.
Because voters approved the Benefit Charge, the Excess M&O Levy will be eliminated at the end of 2020.
The Fire District anticipates a stable expense budget over the next 6 years, taking population and inflation into account.
How can I learn more?
For more information, please email BenefitCharge@GrahamFire.org. (Our response email may be routed to your junk/spam folder. Please add us as a “safe sender” in your junk/spam folder settings in order to receive our emails)