What does Fire Benefit Charge mean for Shoreline property owners in 2016?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

On Jan. 23, 2016, Matt Cowan, Fire Chief of Shoreline Fire Department, talks about what the Shoreline community can expect from the fire benefit charge that voters in his Fire District supported on the August 4, 2015 ballot. He thinks the fire benefit charge is a solution for diversifying his Fire District’s operating budget.

By Gabriella Neal

In addition to the existing fire levy tax, a fire benefit charge approved by voters in August will appear on Shoreline property tax bills in 2016.

But for the typical homeowner, the dollar amount of the two combined will likely be lower than the existing levy, while commercial­ property owners may be charged more under the benefit charge that is based on the size and risk factors of a location.

A fire benefit charge is a fee that is determined by the amount of risk that a building poses and by the amount of square footage of a building. It is not assessed on property value. The higher the risk, the larger the fire ­benefit charge.

Shoreline residents received a letter from the Shoreline Fire Department on January 15, explaining the changes and how they will be calculated. Funds from the fire benefit charge will go toward the district’s emergency­ service operating expenses.

According to a Shoreline Fire Department fact sheet, the owner of a a 1,520 ­square­ foot house is currently paying $312 in taxes. With the fire benefit charge and a lower levy the combined amount becomes $238.

“The fire benefit charge is a per square foot charge on a property owner’s building,” said Matt Cowan, fire chief of Shoreline Fire Department. “It’s basically a charge that quantifies the risk of a structure,” telling us the amount of resources the department needs to fight a potential fire at a building.
“It is a more accurate representation of the need for what that structure requires,” Cowan said.

Curtis Campbell, Shoreline Public Schools information officer, said Shoreline Public School building structures are exempt from fire­ benefit charges. Places of worship are also exempt.

Before approval of the fire benefit charge, the fire department was funded primarily by a fire ­tax levy, a type of property tax. The fire benefit charge is now an alternate source of revenue for the fire department, combined with a decreased fire tax levy.

The current fire tax levy capped rate of $1.50 will drop to $1.00 per $1,000 of assessed value, and the fire department plans to make up for the 50 cents loss of revenue with the fire benefit charge. As a result, commercial property owners will likely pay more of the fire benefit charge and homeowners will pay less. With the fire benefit charge in place, it is believed that costs will be more appropriately distributed, said Cowan.  

“The biggest point is probably that the fire benefit charge will still be a minor source, equating to 50 cents and the fire tax levy will account for $1.00 or 67 percent,” said Cowan.

The fire benefit charge is the solution to providing the funding necessary to sustain the fire department in the long run, said Allen Alston, citizen member of the fire department’s long-range planning committee. The committee is a group of fire commissioners and citizens who consider the fire district’s long­term operational and capital needs.

The fire benefit charge is not a permanent measure, as citizens have the ability to discuss the benefit charge at annual public meetings and to re­authorize it every six years.


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