SK Fire Chief Speculates on Tax Implications of Regional Fire Authority

Note: The online version of the story referenced below was changed to reflect the correct current rate for South Kitsap Fire and Rescue’s EMS levy (30 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value) and the 2007 rate for the district’s fire levy ($1.17 per $1,000). A correction will run in the paper.

Also, I said the fire levy was a six-year levy. To clarify: the district ran and passed a temporary fire levy in 2006 for the maximum time of six years. The regular fire levy is permanent, and the district has both. The total levy rate for both is 98 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

******* OK Here’s the post:

In comments following a story I wrote Sept. 9 on the South Kitsap Fire and Rescue EMS levy, readers expressed concern about the tax implications when/if SKFR merges with the Bremerton Fire Department and Central Kitsap Fire and Rescue. I asked SKFR Chief Wayne Senter what he knows. Here’s what he said:

Chief Senter:

“It is too early in the planning process to predict what funding mechanisms will be used to fund the expenses of the proposed West Sound Fire Authority. All of the funding mechanisms available to a fire district are available to the regional fire authority. We are currently determining what the expenses for the WSFR would be, once that is done, the options for funding will be determined. Regardless of what the planning process produces, voters will determine if the authority is formed and funded through an election involving all three fire service areas.”

Kitsap County Assessor Jim Avery, in an earlier post on this blog, also said it was to early too give definitive answers. He did have more information on funding options for RFAs.

Jim Avery:

“There is a lot of flexibility in how such an organization can be organized. Under a full RFA there would be only one governing body and the same levy rate would be charged to all property owners within the combined taxing district. This would be difficult to get started, as the CK ($1.26) and SK ($.98) levy rates are a ways apart. I think the two RFAs currently existing in the state are modified RFAs where the existing governing bodies (fire commissions and/or city council) continue while the existing levies continue in each of the districts. What is hopefully gained is a closer working relationship with more inter-local agreements to share protection areas and operational efficiencies.
I think it is very early to know what is going to happen at this point between the City of Bremerton, SKFR and CKFR. Anything that does happen, however must ultimately be authorized by the voters. Feel free to call if you still have questions.
Jim Avery”

In the same blog post, we heard from Mark Horaski of Valley Regional Fire Authority, formed in 2007 from the merger of the Algona, Pacific, Auburn fire departments. Notice he says,”Some of our cities experienced higher increases than the average due to differences in the original city levy rates and fire services that were being provided.”

Mark Horaski:

“The Valley Regional Fire Authority was officially formed on January 1, 2007, the result of a proposition approved by the voters during the November 2006 election. The agreed upon taxing structure was that 2007 would see each participating city (Algona, Auburn and Pacific) continue to levy their regular property tax rates and transfer funds to the VRFA for its operations. Starting in 2008, the VRFA has levied its own property tax, which is comprised of the following:
1. A property tax levy; and
2. A fire benefit service charge.
Note that this funding mechanism was also approved by the voters in November 2006. The fire benefit service charge must be renewed by the voters every six years, and in exchange for the ability to levy it, the maximum property tax rate that the VRFA can levy is $1.00 per $1,000 of assessed value (versus $1.50 per $1,000 of AV for a non-FBC funding model).
It is important to emphasize that each of the participating cities reduced its own 2008 property tax levy rate to reflect the fact that they were no longer providing fire services to their citizens.
During the original vote on the proposition, it was outlined to taxpayers that the average citizen would not see an increase in the cost of funding fire operations of approximately $60 per year. We were pleased to keep this increase to approximately $38 for 2008.
You are correct that some of our cities experienced higher increases than the average due to differences in the original city levy rates and fire services that were being provided. This was discussed during the vote on the VRFA establishment however, and it was outlined that some citizens would be paying more for fire service under the VRFA model.
However, in exchange for a higher rate, they would receive:
1. A full time 24/7/365 professional firefighter staffed station (one VRFA city was previously staffed with a combination of professional firefighters and reserves, and did not provide 24/7/365 service); and
2. Full three person engine crews for our entire service area (this increases fire fighter safety, and provides additional response capabilities while on a call–one VRFA city previously ran with 2 person engine crews).
Finally, it was noted that the service contract that one city had with another for the provision of fire services did not reflect the cost of providing service to that city–as a result, that city’s contract rate would have gone up significantly at the next renewal. The VRFA formation took care of this situation.

One thought on “SK Fire Chief Speculates on Tax Implications of Regional Fire Authority

  1. I don’t believe you correctly understand the fire district regular levy, since you say: “To clarify: the district ran and passed a temporary fire levy in 2006 for the maximum time of six years. The regular fire levy is permanent, and the district has both. The total levy rate for both is 98 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.”

    There is only one “regular” fire district levy. It is permanent, and has a “lid” that controls the annual increases that the fire district commissioners can impose on their own. (I don’t really know what to call the EMS levy, since it has attributes of a “regular” levy and of an “excess” levy. I suppose calling it a “special” levy like you did is the best way to label it.)

    The voters can approve a “lid lift” to allow a bigger annual increase, which is what they did in 2006.

    The lid lift can be either permanent or temporary — and in this case it was temporary.

    The effect of a voter-approved temporary lid lift is one levy that has two “lids” — the temporary lid that results from the voters’ approval, and the permanent lid which is still being calculated by the assessor, since that is what the levy amount will go back down to after 6 years (unless the voters approve another lift to keep it from falling back).

    Maybe it is the existence of two lids that leads you to think of it as two levies. One of those lids — the permanent lid — is “running in the background” like a computer program that you don’t notice as you use your computer, while the temporary lid is actually controlling the annual levy increases.

    If a temporary lid lift ballot measure specifically states the purpose for the additional funding, you would probably see the regular levy amount and the additional levy amount displayed separately by the assessor — like the county’s lid lift for the CENCOM building a few years ago. In that specific case, they look like two levies, since one part of the total levy authority is “earmarked” by the voters’ approval of the ballot measure.

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