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Last Chance: Woodinville Fire Funding Ballot Vote

The special election ballot asks voters to decide whether to continue funding Woodinville Fire and Rescue at the current level for the next six years. Ballots must be postmarked or dropped off on April 23.

Maybe you've voted already on whether to continue funding the Woodinville Fire and Rescue at current levels for the next six years.

If you haven't, voters in the Woodinville Fire District area have until Tuesday, April 23 to get ballots in the mail or drop them off at the King County Elections ballot drop box at 919 SW Grady Way in Renton.

Woodinville Fire and Rescue mailed a newsletter recently to those in zip codes 98072 and 98077 explaining the voting issue and the specific method of funding used by the fire district known as the "benefit charge." 

From the Woodinville Fire and Rescue newsletter:

Since 1990, Woodinville Fire has utilized a Fire Benefit Charge as a stable means to collect revenue. This April the Fire District is seeking to continue the benefit charge at its current level of funding.

The benefit charge is based on the square footage of buildings and structures on your property. This is in contrast to taxes that are based on assessed value. The Fire District currently receives 40% of its revenue through the benefit charge.

There are many reasons why the District utilizes a benefit charge rather than simply collecting all revenues through a tax levy. The Fire District is considered a junior taxing district. This means that the Fire District receives its money after all senior taxing districts (state, county, city, roads, ports, and public utility districts) receive theirs. A worst case scenario would be for senior taxing districts to collect the maximum allowed by law and therefore cut into what the Fire District can collect.

By having a benefit charge to collect a portion of the revenue, the funding source for vital services such as fire protection and emergency medical responses are protected from cuts. Another advantage to the benefit charge is the ability to provide discounts to the elderly, low income persons, and people who have installed fire sprinkler systems in their homes. 

Although the Fire District levy and benefit charge can be confusing, our desire at Woodinville Fire is to give everyone the opportunity to understand how revenue is generated. The Board of Fire Commissioners, staff, and firefighters at Woodinville Fire are committed to being financially responsible with your tax and benefit charge dollars.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q: Is this a new tax or an increase of an existing one?

A: No, the benefit charge is not considered a tax. The benefit charge has been in place since 1990. Every six years voters need to renew the benefit charge. This vote simply extends the current funding for another six years.

Q: What does it mean by being based on “Improvements”?

A: “Improvements” is a term that refers to anything added to the land portion of your home. “Improvements” include any type of building built upon the land. Generally this refers to houses, garages (attached and detached), carports, outbuildings such as barns and sheds. 

Q: What happens if the Benefit Charge is not renewed?

A: Since the benefit charge accounts for 40% of the Fire District’s operating budget, failure of the measure would result in significant loss of revenue. As a result, services would need to be cut. The issue would then be reintroduced in 2014 as a reinstatement of the benefit charge or a levy lid lift to increase taxes. However, if these issues are vvoted on in 2014, they would not take effect until 2015.

Q: Where can I get more information?

A: There is additional information on the Fire District’s website at www.wf-r.org. You can also contact the District’s headquarters at 425-483-2131 for answers to additional questions.

Have you voted yet or do you know how you will vote? Tell us in comments.

Jeff Blake April 17, 2013 at 02:55 PM
A yes vote does not set the assessment rate for the next six years; the fire commission would continue to set the rate each year and is not subject to the same % limit increases as are other taxes. Taxpayers are only giving authorization to the fire commission to utilize the Benefit Service Charge (BSC) to help fund the services with a yes vote. The newsletter while on the surface looks to explain the BSC, they left out information which could help voters decide. I.e. The fire commission does have the ability to raise the BSC rate during the six years of authorization. Why wouldn't they tell you that? Why didn't they send the newsletter to everyone in the District? Why the secrecy? Why are they afraid to tell us the truth about the Benefit Service Charge? It's a good way for fire districts to help manage funding levels in uncertain times, why not be truthful about that when asking us to approve and trust them with our money?
Ron Swanson April 17, 2013 at 05:11 PM
There is $0.30 / 1,000 for King County MedicOne levy. The fire benefit charge is definitely not a straight forward tax pegged to the assessment of the house as most other charges. Isn't it correct that the Fire Department is gauranteed a up to $1.00 per 1,000 of assessed value under the fire benefit charge system and up to $1.50 per 1,000 of assessed value if fire benefit charge system was NOT approved by the voters? Based on the tax and fire benefit charge approved by the commissioners for the last few years, it seems they have charged at higher rates than $1.50. So, if the fire benefit charge is DENIED, they would simply need to manage within that maximum limit (which covers most of the 40% referred to above). Also, can someone tell me how much raise did the employees of this district receive while the citizens experienced huge reduction in the value of their homes over the last 3-4 years. Housing is turning around now, and there is no reason for this extra source of funding to make it easy for the commissioners. They are elected to represent the citizens to provide a basic service, but it appears they have made several bad decisions and wasted tax-payer dollars for a long time now. You just have to look at the massive turnover in leadership positions, along with hefty severance packets. It is time to put a cap on all this nonsense and vote NO on this measure. Lets send a message to these so called elected officials to stop looting the public money.
K Coughlin April 19, 2013 at 02:41 AM
The board of Commissioners has tried to be transparent by sending out the mailing. I suspect that some residents didn't get the mailing because they have a Redmond zip code. The info has been on the website since it was mailed out. If there is something that we could have better explained, please let us know. This is not the ballot to use as a referendum on the management of the District. 3 Commissioner positions are up for election this fall. That is the election to change the elected leadership. This election will allow funding of the district for 6 years. There have been no raises in the last 3 years. Our Union members have agreed to no wage increase. If you look at your tax statements you will see that while the rate has increased the average home assessment has remained about the same. A no vote will reduce service levels and increase response time.
Jude Kanaga April 19, 2013 at 07:48 PM
Jeff, you've got it right! Great questions but no real answers from Commissioner Coughlin. (Why not?) Approving the benefit charge renewal would be tantamount to handing the Board of Fire Commissioners and the firefighters' union controlling it a blank check. Don't do it. Any changes in the benefit service charge should reflect changes in the service levels citizens receive for FIRE PROTECTION not EMS. If the charge goes up, then citizens should expect better service. What they got instead is overpaid firefighters with bigger toys, e.g., an extravagant ladder truck. Supporting the Medic One Levy in November will ensure citizens continue to receive world-class advanced life support services. Continued support for fire protection and basic life support services is achievable within the $1.50 cap on tax rates per $1,000 of assessed value that the fire district would have left to use if the benefit charge renewal fails. The reduction in revenues that would result from the benefit charge's defeat would ensure Commissioners had the incentive to force through the changes required to live within their means. If they don't learn that lesson at this election, voters will face an even bigger challenge when they have to decide on replacing the commissioners themselves later this year. Don't put off until tomorrow a job you can do today! Vote NO on the benefit service charge for Woodinville Fire & Rescue.
Jude Kanaga April 19, 2013 at 07:56 PM
No change in wages for the last three years? Not true. Firefighters received generous cost of living and seniority bonuses under contract rollovers the past two years. Is it possible they accepted a pay freeze this year to bide their time until they can get a better deal? Looks like it. With the revolving door on the leadership chair still spinning and the district shopping for a new fire chief and a possible merger partner at the same time, why should voters trust the Board of Fire Commissioners to hold the line until firefighters' pay and benefits fall into line with citizens' wage rates and ability to pay? Trust seems like a very scarce commodity within Woodinville Fire & Rescue. Maybe for once the internal climate is actually in sync with the external environment.
Jeff Blake April 20, 2013 at 08:07 PM
If you can send us a bill for the benefit charge, you surely have our addresses to send us the newsletter. Actions speak louder than words; you have to actually be transparent not just say you are. Since you knowingly did not send out the newsletter to a select group of citizens; how can you make the statement you have "tried to be transparent?" And rather than apologize for not sending the newsletter to us; you want to make it our fault because you posted it on the the webpage. What if we don't send the district our money, but post it on our webpage telling where you can find it; would that be okay. Come on Commissioner Coughlin, do your job or step down immediately. You can be certain I will be looking to make a change in our fire commission members; I'm tired of the district wasting our money.
Jude Kanaga April 21, 2013 at 09:34 PM
Ron, the District's union employees received wage increases in 2010, 2011 and 2012 equal to the CPI-U. That's the rate of inflation on goods and services in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bremerton urban area. These increases were cumulative, so their pay increased by an average of 3 percent over the previous year in each of those years. Meanwhile, most workers in the same urban area experienced wage deflation or unemployment. Those who kept their jobs often lost wages or benefits in exchange for the privilege of working. I've heard varying estimates of how big those losses were, but it seems safe to assume they were at least equal but opposite to those the firefighters experienced. The cumulative effect of unemployment and wage deflation on home prices in the fire district is clear. Many people experienced drops of 25 to 40 percent. It seems the fire district is intent on saving money at least one way. The salary advertised for the new fire chief is $135,000 to $150,000. (That's a good indicator that the average firefighter takes home between $95,000 and $105,000 per year plus generous fringe benefits.) Still, that's a big difference from the $160,000 they paid Chief Daniels when he started in 2010. With all the cuts the commissioners have made in administrative overhead, it seems if anything that the job has gotten bigger. Who's desperate enough to take on a department in such disarray? Here's hoping we can find a way to get more than we're willing to pay for new leadership.
Jude Kanaga April 21, 2013 at 09:36 PM
All this would be a lot less confusing if Commissioners would clarify what they intend to do with the money raised by the benefit service charge. On one hand, they seem intent on finding a new chief. At the same time, they seem intent on resolving the annexation of Norway Hill by giving Bothell's fire chief control of the entire fire district. That move will not keep the District from losing more than a million dollars a year in property tax and benefit charge revenues. Do these guys have any clue at all?
K Coughlin April 22, 2013 at 03:51 AM
Jeff- you are right. I am sorry that we didn't get the mailer to you.
Gary April 22, 2013 at 05:13 AM
Blah blah blah blah. Woodinville firemen make less than Redmond, Bellevue, Kirkland, Bothell and Mill Creek firemen. There's no cost of living adjustments in their contract. They just switched to a cheaper healthcare plan, laid off personnel, reduced staffing and eliminated administrative staff. Their ladder truck is cheaper than the one Jeff Blake (disgruntled former Kirkland Chief) bought in Kirkland. What a bunch of blowhards. When my wife had her stroke, the firemen they were there quick and did a great job. My bill for a year of service costs less than what I spend on any other insurance policy (and less than my annual Starbucks allotment). I'll vote yes gladly, my wife's life (she's doing fine now) is worth more than some former Kirkland Chief's nonsense.
Jeff Blake April 22, 2013 at 05:38 AM
Gary I'm not a disgruntled former chief; I'm a disgruntled taxpayer. This isn't about the firefighter's pay and benefits or the apparatus the district has purchased; this is about a fire commission that has needlessly spent millions of dollars on lawsuits, consultants, and over paying for executive staff. I understand the value of having excellent fire and emergency medical services, I just don't think we need to over pay for it. The fire commission is asking us to authorize them to set rates without telling us what their policy will be for establishing the rate. They need a plan they are willing to communicate with taxpayers, not be silent on the matter. After they way they have spent money needlessly, I don't trust them to do it right now.
Local Guy April 22, 2013 at 03:44 PM
I get so tired of the race to the top and the demand for more... So what if one district makes more then another? There's your " lah blah blah"... signed, former red truck express passenger, transported by Redmond, from my Woodinville address...
Jude Kanaga April 22, 2013 at 04:38 PM
Gary, I don't care what Woodinville firefighters make in comparison to those employed elsewhere. I DO care about what they make in comparison to those of us who pay their salaries. Their wages have become unhinged from the reality we as ratepayers must live with. Again, this disconnect goes to the stuff they claim to need to do their jobs. Their last annual report says the district's fire losses were less than $250,000 for the entire year. That's not because they're great at what they do. It's an indication of how few serious fires we have. EMS service is what matters. And your experience seems to underscore that. Do we need to send a ladder truck that cost more than $1.2 million to an EMS call. I don't think so.
Jude Kanaga April 22, 2013 at 04:41 PM
What, still no response about what commissioners intend to do with the benefit service charge revenues? Should we expect continued expenditures above $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value? Will commissioners cede oversight to Bothell rather than make tough choices themselves? Or will they hire another chief that will leave in a year or so under a dark cloud, but dangling from a golden parachute?
Ron Swanson April 22, 2013 at 11:26 PM
I question Gary's assertion about Woodinville firefighters making less than their counterparts. How did he come about such information? You also may want to ask why in the heck did they agree to a wage freeze and is it for multiple years or just one year fix? It would be great and transparent for the fire district to post a comparative salary chart of all the fire departments in the area along with benefits. What do you say Mr. Coughlin? Also, why not let the taxpayers see everyone's wages (excluding their names) for the last 6 years so we can see how much increase or freezes were actually taken.
Jude Kanaga April 23, 2013 at 03:42 AM
Ron, it's interesting that Gary played the man and not the ball by attacking Jeff's motives. Sure sign of a weak hand, I'd say. Too bad we can't get straightforward answers to simple questions from Commissioner Coughlin. At least he weighed in here. The others have clearly exercised their right to remain silent.
Ron Swanson April 23, 2013 at 03:08 PM
Here is another question that should be answered by the commissioners - In the event Bothell ends up as the merger partner, wouldn't it mean that Woodinville and the District's residents will be subsidizing the fire services for Bothell folks since they are limited to $1.50 limit and they will use Woodinville's benefit charge to fund the difference? The difference is of course for the fat union contracts - lets not be fooled by dangling carrot (temporary hold on pay increase) and forget that the firefighter union for Bothell and Woodinville merged recently to take advantage of just this situation. There is absolutely no good reason to reauthorize this spending authority for the district. It is simply not a fiscally responsible thing to do here. Vote NO at the ballot boxes.
Braunzie April 25, 2013 at 01:09 AM
One of the downsides to a 40% taxation is that there are no controls on what that 40% means. So, if the budget has to go up because of unforseen costs then the 40% portion of that goes up the same percentage. The $1.50 maximum is still there but it has always been there. I would prefer to see a cap of "X" dollars distributed amongst the properties because that is tangible and represents a limit.

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