Benefit Charge FAQs
What is a benefit charge?
A Benefit Charge is part of a two-part funding system that helps ensure growing communities maintain high quality fire and life safety services. The fee is included in your property tax payable to King County. On your tax statement it is identified as a “Fire Fee.” The fee is based on factors that consider the size, type, and risk of structures. As an example, a commercial office building will have a smaller Benefit Charge than an industrial location that houses flammable or other hazardous chemicals, even if the buildings have the same size or assessed value.
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. A property tax system alone, only takes into consideration the value of the property and not the benefits provided by the Regional Fire Authority to specific property types. 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. Every year, Puget Sound Fire collects the necessary square footage data from the King County Accessors Office.
- 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 in mobile home parks, 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) to calculate the water or “fire flow” needed to extinguish a fire.
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 excess demand for fire services, the benefit charge formula adds to the base fire benefit charge as follows:
• A 15% increase for automotive fueling stations, general retail stores, eating and drinking establishments and light industrial/commercial buildings.
• A 20% increase for big box retail, automotive fueling, repair, and service facilities.
• 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 hazardousmaterials 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.
How often is the Benefit Charge reauthorized?
RCW 52.18.050 requires the Benefit Charge to be authorized by a majority of the voters every 6 or 10 years. A lifetime Benefit Charge can be authorized by a 60% vote. From its inception in 2010 the Benefit Charge was being reauthorized every 6 years. In August 2021, voters approved a lifetime Benefit Charge. Thank You for your support!
If you have additional Benefit Charge related questions, please contact our Benefit Charge line at (253) 856-4359.