Benefit Charge: Maintain Fire & Medic One

Graham Fire & Rescue

Demand for Graham Fire & Rescue services is growing; service calls have increased 40 percent since 2010. Currently, nearly all of our funding to provide fire and emergency medical response services comes from voter-approved property taxes. Regular property tax revenue can only increase by 1 percent each year (plus the value of taxes on new construction)—as required by state law. However, the cost of our operations typically grows by more than 1% each year. To address this gap between revenues and expenses, to reduce reliance on property taxes and to provide more stable funding to meet the needs of our growing service area, the Fire Commissioners are exploring a Benefit Charge. A Benefit Charge is a fee (not a tax), that is designed to allocate costs based on the fire risk created by different types of buildings.

Washington statute RCW 52.18 provides that fire districts, with the approval of the voters in their district, are authorized to collect a benefit charge from residential and commercial property owners. Once the benefit charge collection is authorized by the voters, the normal tax collection rate authorized by State Law, drops from $1.50 per thousand to $1.00 per thousand of assessed value.

For more information or questions, email BenefitCharge@GrahamFire.org


Public Hearing – Benefit Charge

The Board of Commissioners of Graham Fire & Rescue hereby gives notice of a public hearing to be conducted on July 14, 2020 at 6:00 P.M. during an open meeting of the Board to be held on such date. The public may attend this hearing virtually at the following address:

Please dial in using your phone.
United States (Toll Free): 1 877 309 2073
United States: +1 (571) 317-3129

Access Code: 810-195-021

Those wishing to issue comments on this proposal must do so via electronic mail at the following address: benefitcharge@grahamfire.org

Comments received after 5:00 PM on July 13, 2020 will not be considered at the public hearing.


Benefit Charge FAQs

Who is Graham Fire & Rescue? [+]

Graham Fire & Rescue is a Fire District that provides fire and emergency medical services to nearly 67,000 residents, businesses and properties within its borders. “Fire Protection Districts” (Fire Districts) are independent municipal corporations that are authorized and governed by state law (Title 52 RCW) and are accountable to voters in their district.

Graham Fire & Rescue serves people throughout 70 square miles of south central Pierce County, including the communities of Frederickson, Spanaway, South Hill, Graham and Kapowsin. 97 dedicated firefighters and emergency service providers work out of the six fire stations located in the district.

The growing Graham Fire & Rescue District has seen a significant increase in service calls in the last decade. In 2019, the agency responded to 7,323 calls for service—over 40 percent more than in 2010.

Graham Fire & Rescue recently received an improved rating from the Washington State Surveying and Rating Bureau, putting the fire district in the top 10% of fire departments rated in Washington. This improved rating means lower fire insurance premiums on homes and businesses.

How are Graham Fire & Rescue services funded today? [+]

Property taxes—based on assessed value of buildings and land—are currently the primary revenue source. Different levies and other non-tax revenue sources also provide funding. Levies include:

  • Regular Tax Levy: Fire Protection Districts may levy up to $1.50 per $1,000 assessed valuation. Graham Fire & Rescue currently levies $1.45.
  • Emergency Medical Service Levy: Fire Protection Districts may also levy an additional $.50 per $1,000 assessed value to provide emergency medical services.
  • Excess Tax Levy: Levy that exceeds the $1.50 regular tax levy limits. 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 tender.

2020 Graham Fire & Rescue Property Tax Rates

Fire Levy: $1.45 per $1.000 of assessed value (max rate  = $1.50)

EMS Levy:  $0.50 per $1.000 of assessed value (max rate  = $0.50)

Excess Levy: $ 0.53 per $1.000 of assessed value

All levies are voter approved.

What is a Benefit Charge? [+]

A Benefit Charge (BC) is a funding option available to Fire Districts to pay for fire and emergency service operations. Unlike property taxes, a BC is a fee, not a tax. With voter approval, a BC replaces a portion of the property tax that a Fire District otherwise collects.

A 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). A BC transfers more of the Fire District’s operating costs to buildings and facilities that require more resources to respond to a fire event.

In contrast, when a Fire District levies a property tax, it is based on the assessed value of buildings and land, and does not take into account needed resources, building sizes or associated hazards.

Under a BC, larger, more complex structures which require a larger, more complex fire response, generally pay more. And single family residential and small commercial properties, which require a less complex fire response, generally pay less.

Low income seniors, low income persons and persons with disabilities that qualify for property tax exemptions also qualify for a BC exemption. Religious institutions and buildings, including religious schools, nonprofit and public housing for low income residents, seniors and persons with disabilities and vacant land and/or parcels with structures under 400 square feet are also exempt.

Why is Graham Fire & Rescue exploring a Benefit Charge? [+]

A Benefit Charge (BC) is being explored to help Graham Fire & Rescue maintain its fire & medic one services.

Demand for Graham Fire & Rescue services is increasing, with a 40 percent increase in calls since 2010. A BC would allow the Fire District to maintain existing service levels as the community’s needs continue to grow and change.

A BC will also shift costs to structures that require more fire service. For example, complex structures with on-site hazards pay more than simple, non-hazardous structures of the same size and property value.

Finally, a BC will provide financial stability for fire and emergency medical services delivery by diversifying revenues to include both property tax (at lower than current rates) and the BC, as well as fees for service and state grants. Under state law, total property tax receipts collected by Fire Districts can only increase one percent from year to year, plus the value of taxes on new construction (this is true for all local governments in the state). However, costs of firefighter salaries, benefits, fuel and equipment replacement often go up by more than one percent per year, creating a gap between revenues and expenses. A BC can help cover these gaps and reduce the frequency with which a Fire District must seek voter approval for property tax increases.

How is a Benefit Charge approved? [+]

Implementing a BC requires 60 percent voter approval initially. If approved, the BC is in place for 6 years, at which point voters must again decide whether to extend it. A 6-or 10-year extension requires simple majority voter approval; a permanent extension requires 60% voter approval.

The Graham Fire & Rescue Board of Commissioners is considering placing a BC proposition before the voters on the November 2020 election.  If approved, the BC would start in 2021.

Is there a limit to the amount of revenue that can be collected through a 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. Graham Fire & Rescue is proposing a financial plan for the BC to cover approximately 25% of the total operating budget.

Will a Benefit Charge impact how much I pay for fire and emergency medical services? [+]

Yes. If voters approve a Benefit Charge (BC), Graham Fire & Rescue will lower its property tax rate from $1.45 to $1.00 per $1,000 assessed value. In addition, the Fire District plans to stop collection of the voter approved 2019-2022 Maintenance and Operations (M&O) Excess Levy two years early—in 2021—as the BC will replace that revenue.

The total amount of revenue a property owner will pay each year 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. For some properties, the net cost will be higher; for others, it will be lower.

Under a BC formula, all properties in the Fire District will fall into one of four categories based on data from the County assessor. Each category will be charged differently.  Properties at higher risk for a fire, and those that use, process or store hazardous materials will pay more than properties without such hazards (residential gas stoves are not considered a hazard).

Benefit Charge Categories

ResidentialMobile Home Park Units
Multi-Family BuildingsCommercial Buildings

Some examples are presented below.

Small single-family residential home

AV: $267,900
Sq. Ft.: 1,756
2020 Total: $707.26
2020 Tax + BC: $597.81
Large single family residential home

AV: $699,800
Sq. Ft.: 6,442
2020 Total: $1,847.47
2020 Tax + BC: $1,722.18
Manufactured/mobile home on private land

AV: $195,600
Sq. Ft.: 1,080
2020 Total: $516.38
2020 Tax + BC: $335.22
Small commercial business

AV: $340,900
Sq. Ft.: 2,904
2020 Total: $899.98
2020 Tax + BC: $1,053.55
Medium commercial business

AV: $896,500
Sq. Ft.: 8,320
2020 Total: $2,366.76
2020 Tax + BC: $2,863.21
Large commercial business

AV: $3,093,700
Sq. Ft.: 24,946
2020 Total: $8,167.37
2020 Tax + BC: $9,114.77
Small multi-family residential property

AV: $374,000
Sq. Ft.: 3,312
2020 Total: $987.36
2020 Tax + BC: $2,322.38
Mid-size multi-family residential property

AV: $444,500
Sq. Ft.: 16,302
2020 Total: $1,173.48
2020 Tax + BC: $8,557.41
Large multi-family residential property

AV: $33,698,500
Sq. Ft.: 218,262
2020 Total: $88,964.04
2020 Tax + BC: $117,916.55

*Exemptions:

  • Religious institutional facilities (churches, schools)
  • Nonprofit and public housing for seniors, low income residents and persons with disabilities
  • Vacant land and/or parcels with structures under 400 square feet
How will a Benefit Charge be collected? [+]

A Benefit Charge (BC) will be billed and collected annually by the County Assessor-Treasurer, as a separate fee.  Graham Fire & Rescue will send an annual notice of their BC for the following year to each property owner by early December.

What if I have concerns with the Benefit Charge allocated to my property? [+]

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 take place in December 2020. Appeals can be submitted in person, online or over the phone.

What happens if a Benefit Charge is not approved by voters? [+]

If a Benefit Charge (BC) is not approved, the combined fire levy authorization will remain at $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value (this does not include the additional EMS levy authorization) and the voter-approved Maintenance & Operations levy will remain in place for its full term through 2022.

As demand for service and operation costs rise, Graham Fire & Rescue will have to address budget gaps by seeking additional property taxes and/or changing how services are delivered.

Have others approved a Benefit Charge? [+]

Voters approved Benefit Charges (BC’s) in seven other fire agencies in central Puget Sound: Central Pierce Fire & Rescue, Puget Sound Fire Authority, Valley Regional Fire Authority (Auburn), Renton Regional Fire Authority, King County Fire District 40, Duvall-King County Fire District 45, and Woodinville Fire & Rescue.