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Fire department seeks service charge from Federal Way voters

South King Fire and Rescue has been given the go ahead to put a Service Benefit Charge on the Aug. 17 primary election ballot.

The fire commissioners board approved the measure 3-1 on Tuesday.

SKFR is looking at options to help stabilize revenue sources. Currently, almost all of the department's revenue comes from taxes based on assessed values of property. In the down economy, assessed property values have plummeted 14 percent to 25 percent throughout the Federal Way and Des Moines area.

This has meant more than $3 million lost in funding.

Under the proposed Service Benefit Charge, property taxes collected would go from $1.50 per $1,000 assessed value to $1. Then, using a formula created by the National Fire Protection Association, the Service Benefit Charge would make up the difference.

Reductions are given for items that could lessen the likelihood or severity of a fire, including fire alarms and sprinklers.

The formula takes into consideration what it costs to fight a fire at any given location, including costs for manpower and resources.

The charge would be based on square footage of a home. Owners of larger buildings, be it residential, commercial or multiple family housing, would be charged a higher amount.

The goal is to move the funding back to where it was a few years ago. Once the funding has stabilized, the department could go back and re-adjust the rate as needed.

The Benefit Service Charge is already in use at Central Pierce Fire and Rescue, Eastside Fire and Rescue, Woodenville Fire Department, King County Fire District 16 and Valley Regional Fire Authority.

However, the SKFR commissioners were mixed on the vote.

"I think it's essential we move forward with this process," vice-chairman James Fossos said.

Commissioner Mark Thompson agreed: "This measure will stabilize our financial future and provide the level of service Federal Way has come to expect."

However, commissioner Mark Freitas did not feel the same way. He voted against the measure saying it was not the right time, citing that unemployment was still up, vacancy in the city's commercial areas is still high, and the economy is not right.

"I don't believe the time is right to do this," he said.

The board also passed a measure that would allow the department to put the measure on the November ballot if the measure does not pass in August.

Again, Freitas did not vote for the measure, but the other commissioners present — Fossos, Thompson and Bill Gates — voted to approve the measure. Commissioner John Rickert was not present.

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