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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.

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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