King County Fire Districts 10 and 38 officially announced on February 11, 2016 that will ask voters to approve forming a new Eastside Fire Authority during the April 26 Special Election.
Both fire districts held three public meetings to get community input before unanimously approving the measure on February 10th. Fire Authority Planning Chair Mike Mitchell, who also serves on the Board of Fire Commissioners for Fire District 10, said the public was open to the idea and asked good questions.
“People want to protect emergency service levels long-term, and combining our two fire districts is the way to do that,” said Commissioner Mitchell.
King County Fire District 10 serves Carnation and the unincorporated areas of May Valley, Tiger Mountain, Mirrormont and Preston. Fire District 38 serves the unincorporated areas around North Bend and Snoqualmie.
Costs continue to increase and revenue has been unstable due to changing property values. There is also limited opportunity for growth because both fire districts serve largely rural and unincorporated areas. In addition, annexations by neighboring cities have reduced the amount of revenue available to the districts to pay for things like stations, apparatus, equipment and administrative functions. Once joined, these fixed costs would be shared by more people, which the districts say is more efficient for taxpayers.
The fire districts also say working together as one fire authority will strengthen Eastside Fire & Rescue, a regional
partnership to provide fire and life safety services with the cities of Issaquah, Sammamish and North Bend.
“If the fire districts are unable to cover their costs, it could impact service levels for our partner cities as well as the people we serve in the rural and unincorporated areas,” said Mitchell.
Under the new fire authority, a majority of the cost to provide emergency services would be funded through a fire levy of $1 per $1,000 of assessed property value. The remaining amount would be collected through a benefit charge, which is set through a public process each year.
Voters in 10 other local Washington communities – including Fire District 10 – approved a benefit charge as a more equitable and stable way to fund emergency services. Smaller structures (such as single-family homes) are charged less than larger buildings because it costs less to defend them in a fire. The charge is based on the size and use of a building, as opposed to the value of an entire property which can fluctuate.
Voters approve a benefit charge every six years, and locally elected board members set the rate once a year through a public process. Fire District 10 voters renewed their benefit charge in the last election with 79% of the vote. All property owners have the right to appeal their assessment.
The tax rate equivalent of the benefit charge would average $0.49 per $1,000 of assessed value for property owners. This means that property owners in Fire District 10 will see a tax decrease in the amount they pay for fire service starting in 2017.
Tax Increase for District 38
Property owners in Fire District 38 will see an average increase of $0.20 per $1,000. That would be an increase of $68.20 per year ($5.68 per month) for the average home valued at $341,000.
Fire district officials say that this amount is necessary to maintain emergency service levels, as the current levy rate of $1.29/$1,000 in Fire District 38 is not sustainable.
More information about the proposed ballot measure can be found on the web pages for King County Fire Districts 10 and 38 on Eastside Fire and Rescue’s web site at www.eastsidefire-rescue.org