Voters to decide VRFA’s fire benefit charge

Voters in the Valley Regional Fire Authority service area will decide Aug. 7 whether they wish to continue the use of a voter-authorized fire benefit charge each year for an additional six years.

Voters in the Valley Regional Fire Authority service area will decide Aug. 7 whether they wish to continue the use of a voter-authorized fire benefit charge each year for an additional six years.

Support would allow the VRFA to maintain current response times and service levels for fire protection, emergency medical aid calls, training of personnel, and the purchase of essential equipment, said VRFA Assistant Chief Mike Gerber.

If the measure falls, Gerber said, a provision in state law would allow the VRFA to fall back to what’s authorized by the Legislature, a $1.50 per thousand property tax levy. But, he conceded, that would represent “a significant decrease” of the total revenue available.

“It would be up to the board how to manage moving forward,” Gerber said.

The VRFA is not asking for an increase, Gerber added, just “a continued authorization for our funding model.”

The measure requires 60-percent voter approval.

The VRFA Board of Governance, composed of the mayor and two council members representing the cities of Algona, Auburn and Pacific, authorized Proposition 1 for the primary ballot at its May 10 meeting. The Auburn City Council voted unanimously Monday to place the measure on the ballot.

In the November 2006 General Election, almost 70 percent of the voters approved the formation of the VRFA, the use of the fire benefit charge and the associated property tax of $1 per $1,000 of assessed value, to fund the first regional fire authority in the state.

Since 2008, the FBC has supported about 44 percent of the VRFA operating budget. The FBC is calculated based on occupancy type and square footage of structures.

The FBC reflects a direct and proportional assessment of the cost of providing appropriate fire protection services to a particular building.

Each year the Board of Governance reviews the FBC in a public hearing to ensure fiscal responsibility of this funding for the coming year. State law restricts revenue derived from the FBC from exceeding 60 percent of the VRFA operating budget. By approving the FBC, state law prohibits imposing an additional property tax of 50 cents per thousand dollars of assessed property value for fire protection services.he ballot.

“If this passes, will we see any rate increases for residents?” Councilwoman Largo Wales asked Gerber before the vote.

“We do not foresee any,” Gerber responded. “Between 2008 and 2012, the cumulative increase in taxes from the VRFA has been about $5.57 a year on a residential homeowner. We think we’ve done a good job of maintaining a sustainable flatline-type budget throughout these periods, and we don’t foresee any dramatic increases in the future.”

Gerber said businesses fall into the same ratio, although as a bigger building costs more to provide fire protection to, its owners pay more.

“But they also have a category factored into the calculation,” Gerber said. “So, for instance, if a business is manufacturing fireworks — not that they’re doing it in our community – they would fall into the highest category factor and therefore be assessed at a higher rate. So if the FBC fluctuates within a percent or two within that 44 percent rate that we now use, they would get proportionally more assigned to their side.”

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