Fire Benefit Charge FAQ

Q: What is a fire benefit charge?
A: The fire benefit charge is a fee that is commensurate with the amount of inherent risk that a building poses. The more the risk, the higher the fire benefit charge (FBC). For example, a large commercial building has a higher risk than a residential home. It is calculated in a formula that uses the square footage of the building to determine the charge that will be applied. It is not a "per call" charge and it is not based on property value; it is a fee which is based on the benefit of having fire protection.

Q: Why use a fire benefit charge?
A: The fire benefit charge funds the District's emergency services by apportioning the cost of providing those services appropriately due to the risk posed by the structure. It also allows the Department to diversify its revenue sources by having two main sources instead of one, which will provide long-term stability for the future. Property taxes only take into consideration the value of the property and not the benefits provided by the fire district. These benefits include lower fire insurance costs which are passed on to the homeowner. Other benefits include charging the cost of specialized equipment and training required by some properties to those owners. By using a fire benefit charge, it is believed that costs will be more appropriately distributed. For example, two identical houses 50 yards from each other have the same service needs, but because one has a view of Puget Sound, and therefore a higher assessed value, the homeowner pays more for fire services. With the fire benefit charge, the homeowners will pay a similar amount.

Q: Can I calculate my own fire benefit charge?
A: Yes you can, but the formula is a little complicated so we recommend that you use the comparison lookup tool we have provided. Please remember that we use the square footage listed on King County's database, which might be different than your own calculations. The formula for the Fire Benefit Charge is:

√square feet x 18 x (category factor) x (fire flow benefit factor) x (discounts) = fire benefit charge  

There are potential discounts if you have a sprinkler system or if you are a senior citizen. You can go to the King County website to check for senior citizen qualification at: http://www.kingcounty.gov/depts/assessor/Forms.aspx.

Q: How is the square footage of my property calculated?
A: The fire benefit charge is calculated using the square footage that is listed in the King County Assessor Database. Annually, a report is provided from the County that details the square footage of the buildings on every tax parcel in Shoreline. When calculating the FBC, remember that all square footage is included, as it relates to the overall risk of the structure. For example, an unfinished basement or garage is included in the overall square footage, which may explain why the number is different than what is expected. If you believe that your square footage is incorrect, please go to the King County Parcel Viewer website to look at your property to see what is listed. Click here for instructions on how to do this.

Q: What authority allows for the fire benefit charge?
A: The 1987 Washington State Legislature passed RCW 52.18. This statute provides that fire districts, with the approval of the voters in the district, are authorized to collect a fire benefit charge from residential and business property owners. This legislation also requires the District to hold a public hearing regarding the proposal to impose a fire benefit charge prior to the election authorizing its use. This hearing must be held no more than sixty days nor less than 10 days before the election. The law also provides that the fire benefit charge shall be reasonably proportioned to the benefits received by the property resulting from the services provided by the fire district.

Q: Do other fire departments use a fire benefit charge?
A: Yes. Many fire departments are now either using a fire benefit charge or are moving towards using one. In King County, the following fire departments are using a fire benefit charge; Northshore, Woodinville, King County Fire District 10 (KCFD 10, around Issaquah), Snoqualmie Pass, Kent Regional Fire Authority, KCFD 40 (east of Renton), North Highline, and Valley Regional Fire Authority (Auburn area).

Q: What will happen to my annual property tax payments?
A: With a fire benefit charge in place, the maximum property tax levy authority drops from $1.50, which is where we are currently, to $1.00 per $1,000 of assessed value. At this time we are looking to replace the lost $.50 of authority with the fire benefit charge and receive approximately the same level of overall revenue. Due to the calculation of the fire benefit charge, and the apportioned risks, commercial business owners could see an increase in their overall payments. However, because of those increases, approximately 80% of the homeowners will see an overall decrease in their annual payments.

Q: Does it require a super majority vote to pass?
A: Yes. As a new funding measure it will require a 60% yes vote.

Q: Who establishes the fire benefit charge and what does it cover?
A: RCW 52.18 provides that the Board of the Fire Commissioners may fix and impose a fire benefit charge on personal property and improvements to real property. The fire benefit charge imposed by the District does not apply to land or personal property. The fire benefit charge is applied to improvements to real property such as residential and commercial structures, and other permanent structures affixed to the land. The statute also provides for certain exemptions, such as:

  • Personal property not used in business
  • Property that is the subject of a contract for services with the District, including publicly owned buildings
  • Any property used for religious purposes by a recognized religious organization
  • Property which maintains its own fire department

Q: In general, how does the fire benefit charge work?
A: The fire benefit charge typically has two components, which establish the measurable benefits to the property. The components are based on the square footage of a building and the building's use. This determines the fire flow needed. The fire flow benefit describes in a broad sense the firefighting efforts necessary for a fire department to put out a fire in a specific structure. The fire flow benefit takes into financial consideration the demands a particular structure could place upon a fire department. The criteria used to establish the "fire flow" have been empirically determined by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), Insurance Services Office (ISO) and the Washington Fire Rating Bureau. Using the formula established by these agencies, a "fire flow" is determined. That number is coupled with a "category factor" based on the building's use and a "cost per gallon" determined by fire district needs. It sounds complicated, but essentially once broken down it is a cost per square foot of a building multiplied by the type of building with the riskier structures paying a higher fire benefit charge.

Q: How will a fire benefit charge impact the average homeowner?
A: It will provide a continued level of dependable fire service by maintaining well-equipped firefighters; and because the homeowner will have a regular voice in the fire benefit charge, the homeowner will have greater control over the cost of fire service.

Q: How long is the fire benefit charge in effect?
A: The fire benefit charge law requires annual public hearings and must be renewed every six years.