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What is a benefit charge?
The benefit charge is one part of the RFA’s two-part funding system. It is a fee that is included in your property tax which is payable to King County. It is identified as “Fire Fee” on your property tax statement.
The fire benefit charge funding method is a voter approved, two part funding system authorized by State Law that balances general purpose taxes with a user fee charged. Under this system, the Fire Department is funded by:
- A property tax of up to $1.00 per $1,000 assessed values of property to support day to day operations and capital needs of the fire department; and
- A Fire Benefit Charge of up to 60% of the operating budget and can be used only for day to day operational expenses such as salaries, equipment, fuel and utilities.
The 1987 Washington State Legislature passed RCW 52.18, which provided that fire districts, with the approval of the voters in the district, are authorized to collect a benefit charge from residential and business property owners. A similar statute was subsequently passed as part of the legislation authorizing regional fire authorities under RCW 52.26 (see specifically RCW 52.26.180 – .270). This law allows regional fire authorities to impose benefit charges which shall be reasonably proportioned to the measurable benefits received by the property resulting from the services provided by a regional fire authority. This is referred to as a “benefit charge.”
The benefit charge is not a per call charge and is not based on property value. The benefit charge is a fee, which is based on the benefit of having fire protection. The benefit charge applies to structures 400 square feet and larger and is collected by the County Treasurer’s office along with the property tax bill.
How is the benefit charge calculated?
The benefit charge is calculated separately for each property and is based on the size of the building(s) on a property, firefighting resources, and the hazards associated with those building(s). The benefit charge is not a property tax levy.
What are the factors used in determining the benefit charge?
- Category Factor – The category factor is based upon building use and size (residential, mobile homes, apartments, commercial). This information is obtained from the King County Assessor database for each building subject to the benefit charge.
- Fire Flow Factor – The relative cost of providing the required fire flow per gallon during a fire incident.
- Effective Response Factor – The effective response force factor is relational to the size of force in firefighters and equipment required to deliver the required fire flow.
- Hazard Factor – The hazard factor represents the degree of risk caused by the use, processing, or storage of hazard materials with a building. The hazard factor reflects the need for larger and/or more specialized effective response forces. Hazard factors are determined from use and risk classifications found in the National Fire Protection Association (HFPA) Standard 13 (Standards for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems), and are applicable to commercial properties only.
- The initial extra hazard charges are as follows:
- a. A 30% increase when products or uses with high combustibility or high rates of heat release are present.
- b. A 40% increase when products or uses with high quantities of flammable, combustible or hazardous materials are present.
- No surcharge will be assessed on light and ordinary hazards.
What if the Notification Letter I received has an incorrect square footage value?
The benefit charge is calculated on the gross square footage (outside measurements) of all structures on a land parcel and includes each level of each building, and all basements, garages, lofts, mezzanines, and accessory structures. Please make sure to factor all in to your calculations.
For a step-by-step guide to check your square footage, click here.
How will a benefit charge help the average homeowner?
It will provide a continued level of dependable fire service by maintaining well equipped firefighters; and because you will have a regular voice in the benefit charge, you will have greater control over the cost of your fire service.
What discounts are available?
Discounts are offered for the following:
- Monitored Fire Alarm System
- Automatic Fire Sprinkler
- Low Income Senior/Disabled Person (For complete information on obtaining a KCSLI credit, go to http://kingcounty.gov/depts/assessor/TaxpayerAssistance/TaxRelief.aspx)
- Agricultural Reduction
I believe the Benefit Charge amount to be incorrect. What is the appeals process?
Click here for details regarding the appeals process.
Who establishes the benefit charge and what does it cover?
RCW 52.26.180 provides that the Regional Fire Authority may fix and impose a benefit charge on personal property and improvements to real property. The benefit charge does not apply to land. The benefit charge would cover such property as residential buildings, commercial structures, agricultural buildings, and other structures affixed to the land.
How long is the benefit charge good for?
The initial implementation of the benefit charge requires 60% voter approval for a period up to six years. Every six years, voters have the opportunity to reauthorize the benefit charge, also with 60% voter approval. Current authorization extends through 2022. In addition, the state law requires annual public hearings prior to the next year’s rates being adopted. Hearings are held prior to November 15 each year, by the RFA Governance Board to establish the benefit charge. After the benefit charge has been established, property owners subject to the charge will be notified of the amount of the charge.
The Governance Board will for a Review Board for at least a two-week period to review written complaints/appeals from property owners. The final benefit charge will be added to the property tax bill.