South County Fire to hold virtual public hearing July 7 on proposed benefit charge

The Board of Fire Commissioners for South County Fire will hold a public hearing July 7 on a resolution asking voters to consider a benefit charge during the November general election. The hearing begins at 7 p.m. and will take place via teleconference.

This election would not apply to voters living within the city limits of Brier, Edmonds and Mountlake Terrace. Residents of these cities receive emergency services through a contract their city has signed with South County Fire. 

Currently, emergency services for South County Fire residents are funded by two levies paid through property taxes. The emergency medical services (EMS) levy is capped at 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. The fire levy is capped at $1.50 per $1,000.

With a benefit charge, the fire levy is reduced from $1.50 to $1 per $1,000 of assessed property value and an annual charge is established based on a property’s size and use. Smaller structures — such as single-family homes — are charged less than larger ones (such as commercial developments) because it costs less to serve them in an emergency.

Voters in more than two dozen Washington communities, including Shoreline, Woodinville, Kenmore, Lake Forest Park, and Renton, have approved a benefit charge because it is a fairer way to fund emergency services. The benefit charge will expire in six years unless renewed by voters. Seniors, people with disabilities, and low-income households will maintain any current exemptions they have through the county. There is also a discount for fire alarms and sprinkler systems.

If approved by voters, South County Fire plans to set the benefit charge at a rate resulting in a $1.3 million revenue decrease for 2021. This is possible because of increased revenue the fire authority is receiving to provide service to Medicaid patients.

Residents interested in viewing the meeting or providing public comment can learn how to do so on the South County Fire website.

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