Understanding the Fire 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 Fire Benefit Charge on improvements to real property from residential and business property owners. Once voters authorize the benefit charge, the normal maximum tax collection authority provided in RCW 52.26, drops from $1.50 per thousand to $1.00 per thousand of assessed value.
Chapter 84.55 RCW then limits or pro-rates the maximum levy rate of $1.00 from generating more than 101% of the previous year’s collections. As a result of these limits, the current 2021 levy rate is $0.9606 per thousand of assessed value. As the tax levy is restricted and falls behind inflation, revenues are maintained using the benefit charge portion of the two-part funding system. Periodically, voters are asked to restore the $1.00 levy rate to relieve dependency on the Fire Benefit Charge portion of the two-part funding system. When the levy is restored, the Fire Benefit Charge can be reduced by the same amount the restored levy generates.
The Fire Benefit Charge is a fee that is based on the benefit of having fire based services. It considers that those who benefit more from fire protection services (i.e. large structures and high fire-risk structures) should pay more for that service. The Fire Benefit Charge is applied to improvements to real property, but does not apply to land, giving tax relief to owners of vacant land. Again, 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.