This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.
Voters in the South King Fire & Rescue service area are being asked to go where few voters in this state have gone before: to approve something called a “benefit charge.”
This funding formula – one that isn’t based solely on the taxpayer’s property value – has been available to fire districts since the late 1980s but is in use in only a few, including Central Pierce Fire & Rescue.
The advantage of this diversified formula is that it provides more stable funding than one based solely on property values.
During the recession, with property tax collections plummeting, fire district funding took a hit. Assessed valuations in the Federal Way and Des Moines area served by the department dropped 14.6 percent, decreasing the fire district’s revenue by $3.7 million in 2010. Districts using a benefit charge for part of their funding have been better able to weather the downturn.
If the measure passes, the benefit charge would replace a third of the property tax bill. The charge would be based on the property’s square footage and its use: the higher the cost of providing fire and emergency medical service, the higher the benefit charge.
Under this formula, for example, the owner of a small, single-family residence would pay a lower benefit charge than the owner of a multi-unit apartment complex – even if the assessed value of the two properties were the same.
Some property owners would see their bills rise slightly under the new formula; others would get a slight reduction. Properties with sprinkler systems would get a 10 percent break, and senior citizens would be eligible for the same discounts they receive for regular property taxes.
South King residents and business owners have a vested interest in stable funding for their fire department. If the district can maintain staffing levels and response times, it can maintain its Class 2 insurance rating. The district is one of only three fire districts in the state with that ranking, which qualifies property owners for the lowest insurance rates.
Voters should approve the benefit charge. It’s to their own benefit, as well as the fire department’s.
To read earlier endorsements, click here.