Puget Sound Fire seeks permanent fire benefit charge

Measure on Aug. 3 primary ballot

Voters will decide on the Aug. 3 primary ballot whether to make Puget Sound Regional Fire Authority’s fire benefit charge permanent rather than voting every six years on the fee.

Puget Sound Fire is funded through property taxes ($1 per $1,000 assessed valuation) and up to 60% by a fire benefit charge, which is based on an industry accepted formula that takes into consideration fire flows, the square footage of structures, the type of structures and various risk factors. By state law, a fire benefit charge cannot exceed 60 percent of the operating budget.

With the fire benefit charge, the owner of a large house or business pays a higher fee than the owner of a small home or business.

Voters in 2010 approved the formation of the regional fire authority with 72 percent in favor of funding the agency through a property tax levy and a new fire benefit charge. Previously, Kent funded its fire department through the city’s general fund. Voters approved in 2016 an extension of the fire benefit charge for six more years.

State law required voters to approve the fire benefit charge every six years but now the law has changed to allow regional fire authorities to seek voter approval of a permanent fire benefit charge.

That’s why fire officials and the Puget Sound Regional Fire Authority Board decided to seek voter approval of Proposition No. 1.

“This initiative is simply a reauthorization to continue business as we’ve been doing,” Puget Sound Fire Chief Matthew Morris said to the Kent City Council on July 6 in seeking support from the council. “The mechanisms that are in place to manage the financial controls of the organization haven’t changed. The state law has changed to allow the opportunity to seek a lifetime authorization.”

Morris said the every six-year authorization became constraining and expensive to pay for elections at taxpayers expense every six years.

It costs about $200,000 each election to put the issue on the ballot, according to a three-member citizens committee statement in favor of the measure.

The council unanimously approved a resolution to support the proposition.

“This is brought to the voter every six years at a big expense,” said Council President Toni Troutner, who also is a board member of the Puget Sound Regional Fire Authority. “It’s voted for every year by everyone and it’s passed. It’s never been turned down. This to me is just a housekeeping issue to say we don’t have bring this back year after year.

“It’s an opportunity to have it be a permanent fire benefit charge and save the taxpayers money over the every six years that we bring it back.”

Nobody spoke or submitted statements against the measure at the council meeting. Nobody submitted an opposition statement to King County Elections for the Voters’ Pamphlet.

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