Fire District 38 consists of the unincorporated around North Bend and Snoqualmie. Fire District 10 includes Carnation, May Valley, Preston and Tiger Mt.
Both fire districts are part of Eastside Fire & Rescue, a regional partnership with three cities to provide fire and life safety services. Long-term, the fire districts say working together as one fire authority would sustain emergency service levels for the areas they serve and strengthen the Eastside Fire & Rescue partnership.
According to a press release, costs to meet the demand for emergency services continue to increase for the fire districts. However, revenue is unstable due to changing property values, adding there is limited opportunity for growth because of the rural and unincorporated areas served by the fire districts.
Annexations by neighboring cities has also reduced district revenue for things like fire stations, apparatus, equipment and administrative functions. The two districts say by joining, these fixed costs would be shared by more people, making it more efficient for taxpayers.
“It’s a question of sustainability,” said Fire Authority Planning Chair Mike Mitchell, who is also an elected fire commissioner with Fire District 10. “Working together as one fire authority would stabilize funding for emergency services and is more efficient for taxpayers in both fire districts.”
Mitchell also explained that the fire districts want to be a good partners within Eastside Fire & Rescue, saying he partnership is more cost-effective and provides a higher level of emergency service than the fire districts or cities could afford on their own.
If the fire districts are unable to cover their costs, it could impact the level of service that the partner cities of Issaquah, Sammamish and North Bend receive, as well. This could place the Eastside Fire & Rescue partnership at risk when the agreement is renegotiated in five years.
Committee Charged with Plan Development
Fire Districts 10 and 38 formed a Fire Authority Planning Committee earlier this year and have been meeting regularly to develop a plan.
Under the new fire authority, a majority of the cost to provide emergency services would be funded through a fire levy of $1 per $1,000 of assessed property value. The remaining amount would be collected through a benefit charge, which is set through a public process each year.
Voters in ten other Washington communities – including Fire District 10 – have approved a benefit charge, which is viewed by many as a fairer way to fund emergency services, with smaller structures (such as single-family homes) charged less than larger buildings because it costs less to defend them in a fire.
A benefit charge also stabilizes revenue for emergency services. The charge is based on the size and use of a building (which is constant) as opposed to the value of an entire property (which can fluctuate).
Voters approve a benefit charge every six years, and locally-elected board members set the rate once a year through a public process, with all property owners having the right to appeal their assessment.
The new fire authority would develop its benefit charge based on Fire District 10’s formula. Voters in the district renewed their benefit charge in the last election with 79% of the vote. In 2015, the owner of a 2,500 square foot home with a two-car garage paid $216.89.
The Fire Authority Planning Committee will hold public meetings to share information about the proposed fire authority in early February.
Voters in both fire districts likely will be asked to form a