Understanding the Fire Benefit Charge

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Photo by Wayne Pridemore
By Cathy Goodrich

Communication is key to understanding how the Fire benefit Charge (FBC) is assessed, says Chief Matt Cowan, Shoreline Fire Department. 

Proof of that is in the number of appeals submitted by property owners after they received the revised notification letter in January. 

Cowan attributes the increase in appeals to the clearer description of the FBC’s purpose, how it is calculated, and the appeals process.

Specifically, revisions to the notification letter clarified the availability of a 10% discount for a structure equipped with an approved automatic fire sprinkler system. Cowan believes greater clarity in communication has resulted in the number of appeals increasing from 8 in 2022 to 51 as of March 3, 2023. 

Ninety-two percent were successfully appealed for sprinkler discounts. Two appeals were based on an incorrect understanding of how the square footage is calculated. Two former property owners received FBC letters because their property sales had not yet been recorded by King County.

The deadline for appeal of an FBC was March 6 at 4:00pm. For details on how to appeal, go to the department’s website or call 206-533-6500.

Prior to 2016, fire protection funding in Shoreline was based solely on a property tax called the fire tax levy. Chief Cowan introduced to the Shoreline City Council an alternative option of the FBC, permitted by statute, as a means of diversifying funding. 

The Council brought it to the citizens for a vote in 2015 which passed. As a result, fire protection funding was changed in 2016 to include both the customary but reduced-property tax, and the newly approved FBC. Cowan believes the combination of the FBC, and a property tax is a more equitable way to fund fire protection services for Shoreline residents. Funding based just on the size of a property does not adequately reflect the resources needed to fight a fire.

Unlike a simple property tax, the FBC considers both the size of all of the structures on a property (overall square footage) and each structure’s use (its risk). By doing so, the fee better reflects the firefighting requirements needed for a particular property. 

Generally, the harder it is to reduce the fire hazards to human life and property, the greater is the fee. In other words, larger and riskier structures will pay more than smaller and safer structures according to the Shoreline Fire Department’s January letter to property owners.

Examples of riskier structures are commercial buildings storing chemicals or other fire hazards and multi-story apartment buildings. A residence greater than 5,000 square feet will also pay more than a smaller residence which poses a relatively lower risk. Properties with no buildings will not pay a FBC although they will still owe the tax based on the property’s overall value.

Not every property owner pays the FBC. Certain exemptions apply including for federally owned property, certain schools, and religious organizations. 

Data from the Shoreline Fire Department, indicates about 265 exempt properties. Of those, about 230 are also exempt from the FBC. Another exemption exists for qualifying low-income seniors who may be eligible for a reduced fee. Answers to FBC Frequently Asked Questions are at the department website at https://shorelinefire.com/information/fire-benefit-charge/

Combined funding for fire protection also provides greater stability and flexibility for budgeting and forecasting, says Cowan. No longer tied to fluctuating property values with a rate capped by statute, the FBC includes factors more directly related to the benefits an owner may receive from fire services. 

Also, the FBC can be adjusted for projected cost of service. Each upcoming year’s FBC rate is approved by the elected Board of Fire Commissioners after the previous October’s public hearing. By statute funds collected by the FBC are limited to 60% of the operating budget.


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