Benefit Charge FAQs
How is the Puget Sound Regional Fire Authority funded?
Puget Sound Fire uses a voter-approved two-part funding method authorized under RCW 52.26.180. The two-part system includes property tax and a benefit charge.
What is a benefit charge?
Chapter 52.26 of the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) provides that with approval of voters in their service area, regional fire authorities are authorized to assess a benefit charge on improvements to real property from residential and business property owners. Once voters authorize the benefit charge, the normal tax collection authority provided in RCW 52.26, drops from a maximum of $1.50 per thousand to a maximum of $1.00 per thousand of assessed value. As a result of annual collection limitations, the 2018 tax levy is $0.77138. The benefit charge is a fee that is based on the benefit of having fire based services. The benefit charge is not a per call charge and is not based on property value. This fee is based on structure size, use, and risk, and is not a tax.
Why does Puget Sound Fire use the benefit charge funding method?
The benefit charge provides a stable funding method to secure operating funds for the Regional Fire Authority that result in predictable revenues. A property tax only system only takes into consideration the value of the property and not the benefits provided by the Regional Fire Authority to specific types of property.
The benefit charge allows Puget Sound Fire to charge the cost of specialized equipment and training required by some properties to those properties. By using a benefit charge, costs of providing services are distributed to the properties that benefit from the services.
How is the benefit charge calculated?
Consistent with the statutory requirements, the benefit charge is based on the principle that the basic unit of public fire service is delivery of water to a fire. Accordingly, the Puget Sound Fire benefit charge formula focuses on correlating fire flow to the deployment of resources necessary for the “delivery of water to the fire.”
Puget Sound Fire’s benefit charge formula can be summarized as follows:
- The beginning point, which is driven by the size of the structure, establishes the minimum amount of water that is needed to protect all buildings on a property. Size is determined by finding the total square footage of all improvements on a property. Total square footage is determined by adding all gross square footage (outside measurements of building(s) and all floors, basements, garages and mezzanine spaces are added together to determine total square footage) on the property.
- Puget Sound Fire then uses the formula to determine the resources (personnel and equipment) needed to deliver that base fire flow to a given (or group of) structure(s) on a land parcel. Puget Sound Fire’s formula breaks down structures by categories using four types; single and double family occupancies, manufactured homes, multi-family or apartments, and commercial structures.
The benefit charge formula used is:
√ of total square feet x (18)* x (category factor) x (response factor) x (risk factor) x (fire flow factor) x (discount) = Benefit Charge.
- *18 is a coefficient value based on empirical tests by the Insurance Services Organization (ISO).
Excess Risk Factors
When the structural improvement(s) on a property have higher than normal risk or fire loading, as defined by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) in Standard 13, other NFPA documents, or when a property generates demand for fire services, the benefit charge formula adds to the base fire benefit charge as follows:
- A 10% increase for automotive fueling stations.
- A 30% increase when products or uses with high combustibility or high rates of heat release are present.
- A 40% increase when products or uses with high quantities of flammable, combustible or hazardous
materials are present.
Does every property owner pay the Benefit Charge?
The Benefit Charge is not a tax, so property tax-exempt entities, e.g., governments and charitable
organizations, are not necessarily exempt from the benefit charge. However, certain exemptions do apply, and only improvements to property are assessed. The benefit charge does not apply to land.
If you have additional questions, please contact Fire Administration at 253-856-4300.