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South County Fire shows what property owners would pay with a shift to a benefit charge

South County Fire is asking voters to consider a benefit charge with a lower fire levy during the November 3rd General Election. Fire Commissioners intend to set the benefit charge at a rate that will reduce property tax revenue by $1.3 million next year.
Proposed property tax changes. Image courtesy of South County Fire.

By Leslie Hynes, South County Fire and Rescue Public Information Officer, September 18, 2020.

South County Fire is asking voters to consider a benefit charge during the November 3rd General Election.

Voters in more than a dozen Washington communities (including Shoreline, Woodinville, Kenmore, Lake Forest Park, and Renton) have already approved a benefit charge because they believe it is a fairer way to fund emergency services.

In 2020, the fire levy for South County Fire is $1.28 per $1,000 of assessed property value. Under a benefit charge, the fire levy would decrease to $1 per $1,000.

The benefit charge is calculated based on a property’s size and use. Smaller structures are charged less than larger buildings because it takes fewer resources to serve them in an emergency.

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.

Almost 96 percent of homeowners are expected to pay less or the same with a benefit charge in 2021 compared to the traditional fire levy funding model.

Here are examples of what four homeowners paid in 2020 under a traditional fire levy funding model, compared to what they would have paid with a reduced fire levy and a benefit charge. Property values and fire levy amounts are based on the most current data available from Snohomish County.
 
House 1: Unincorporated neighborhood north of Edmonds

  • 1,825 square feet, assessed value $402,900.
  • Current fire levy funding model: $515.71.
  • Proposed funding model (reduced fire levy and benefit charge): $474.13.
  • Difference: $41.58 decrease.

House 2: Unincorporated Hilltop neighborhood

  • 2,383 square feet, $605,300 assessed value.
  • Current fire levy funding model: $774.78.
  • Proposed funding model (reduced fire levy and benefit charge): $686.69.
  • Difference: $88.09 decrease.

House 3: Unincorporated neighborhood north of Lynnwood

  • 2,526 square feet, $462,300 assessed value.
  • Current fire levy funding model: $591.74.
  • Proposed funding model (reduced fire levy and benefit charge): $546.10.
  • Difference: $45.64 decrease.

House 4: Unincorporated neighborhood north of Edmonds

  • 4,752 square feet, $1,093,500 assessed value.
  • Current fire levy funding model: $1,399.68.
  • Proposed funding model (reduced fire levy and benefit charge): $1,208.43.
  • Difference: $191.25 decrease.

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.

This election will not apply to voters within the city limits of Brier, Edmonds, and Mountlake Terrace. Residents of these cities receive emergency services through a contract their city has signed with South County Fire.

The benefit charge is set annually in a public hearing and property owners can appeal their assessment. It would expire in six years unless renewed by voters. Seniors, disabled persons, and low-income households maintain any current exemptions they have through the county. There is also a discount for fire alarms and sprinkler systems.

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