South King Fire and Rescue to ask voters for tax increase

Measure on Aug. 7 ballot would lift tax levy lid.

South King Fire and Rescue will ask voters in Federal Way and Des Moines on Aug. 7 to lift a property tax lid to allow the district to collect $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

State law allows fire districts to collect up to $1.50 per $1,000 assessed property valuation, but the increase can’t be more than 1 percent from the previous year without voter approval. The measure requires a simple majority for approval, or 50 percent plus one vote.

Currently, SKFR’s tax rate is set at $1.43 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. If approved, the increase would cost the owner of a $300,000 house – which is the median home price in Federal Way – about $21 more per year.

The five elected fire commissioners, which govern the district, made the decision to ask voters for the lid lift. The lift would last for six years and would be capped at a 6-percent increase from the previous year.

“The fire district is funded almost entirely by property tax, unlike other entities,” said Gordy Goodsell, SKFR deputy chief and fire marshal. “Ninety-eight percent of our funding comes from property taxes. We rely on that to provide services.

“We want to meet the growing need of our community and be prepared to respond when called. Responses to 911 calls have gone up 24 percent over the last four years, so there has been an increased demand for services. We run a very lean operation, and this will give us the funding we need. The 1-percent increase just does not keep pace with inflation.”

If approved, the new tax rate would take effect for the 2019 tax year. The fire district won’t know exactly how much money the increase would bring until home values are determined later this year, Goodsell said.

“If that lid lift was in effect now, it would have added $1.3 million to our 2018 revenue,” he said. “This equates to about 4.5 percent of our operating budget.”

The revenue generated by the increase would help cover increasing expenses and allow the fire district to continue programs such as its Community Medical Technicians, which responds to non-emergency 911 calls for help.

“We need another aid car in the district that we hope to add if funding is available,” Goodsell said.

This is not the first time SKFR has asked voters for a lid lift. Voters approved lid lift propositions each year from 2000 through 2006, when state law only allowed for a one-year lift approval. In 2007, SKFR voters approved a six-year lid lift, which expired in 2014.

In 2016, voters approved an excess property tax, which collects $2.75 million per year for the department from 2017-2020. The rate is set at 16 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation.

“That is one we had to utilize because of the decrease in property values that began in 2008,” Goodsell said. “We had a budget shortfall because of the decreased values in homes and our funding is tied directly to that. When the cost of homes went down, our operational expenses did not have a corresponding reduction, so we had to put a measure before voters and say, ‘in order to fund the fire district we need this additional money.’”

Historically, voters in the district have supported tax increases, Goodsell said.

“Our job is to put that information before them so they can make a good decision about it,” he said. “We definitely see the need for it.”

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