Combined fire departments could reduce Olympia’s fire expense; 'excess' may address future costs


The creation of the Regional Fire Authority, merging the fire agencies of Olympia and Tumwater, could reduce Olympia's expenses and address "bow wave" items in the budget, according to Finance Director Aaron BeMiller.

At the Finance Committee meeting held Wednesday, July 20, BeMiller discussed the impact of RFA on city expenses and potential property tax collections.

He said the Washington State statute allows Olympia to charge a maximum of $3.60 per 1,000 per assessed valuation for property tax.

The city's current levy rate is $2.21 per $1,000 assessed valuation. If voters approve, $1 per $1,000 of assessed valuation of property tax would be moved to the RFA.

"If approved, there would be a shift – and we want to mention the word shift because there would be no change in the property tax paid by the property owner. It would just be a shift of where those tax monies go to," BeMiller said.

BeMiller added that the impact of the property tax shift would be a reduction of about $9 million in property tax revenues. But the creation of RFA means the elimination of the fire department expenses.

Olympia's net expense for the fire department – based on the 2022 budget – is $13.3 million. "[$13.3 million] is the amount the general fund expense would be reduced. Then we discussed the almost $9 million drop in the property tax shift,” Explained BeMiller.

BeMiller said the city would have a positive variance of $4.3 million.

Property tax options

Olympia city manager Jay Burney presented two options to the city council regarding $4.3 million, which he called an excess.

Burney said one option could be to reduce the property tax beyond $1 further by the amount of the excess so they could lower the property tax collections.

"While it would enhance the fiscal appearance of the RFA to the community, it would put a strain on the city's general fund in terms of other services that we provide mainly in the areas of public safety," he said.

Burney offered another option to retain $4.3 million to address general fund "bow wave" items.

In May, BeMiller reported to the same committee that the "bow wave" is expected to hit the Olympia budget next year because of ongoing programs with no resources. BeMiller added the city used the one-time American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to fund programs such as Mitigation Site Operations and Crisis Response Unit Expansion, which would be ongoing operations.

Burney said the money could address critical areas of public safety needs "that the community has expressed to us that they want us to focus time and energy on."

Burney added the city has an ongoing obligation to body camera equipment and in-car video systems for the police department. It would cost the city $800,000.

In terms of homeless response, Olympia has to fund Mitigation Site and support position staffing for $1.4 million.

According to Burney, the city has no funding source for Crisis Response Unit. "We have expanded significantly and moved that services to 24 hours a day." He said the program needs $1 million.

Burney said the city needs an estimated $500,000 to contract RFA services for inspections and emergency management assistance.

To support Olympia's climate work and plan, it needs $500,000, Burney added. "We are understaffed and under-resource to move that work forward."

Burney and BeMiller recommended the second option.

"It would help offset these ongoing costs that have strained our general fund resources over the past few years. And I've been a response to a lot of emergent community requests for us to address these items specifically," Burney told the Finance committee members.

Public safety bow wave items:

  • Body Cameras                   - $800,000          
  • Homeless Response:
  • Mitigation Site                   - $ 1,200,000
  • Staffing                                - $ 200,000
  • Rapid Response Team    - $100,000
  • Climate                                 - $500,000
  • Crisis Unit                            - $1,000,000
  • RFA Contract for Services - $500,000


4 comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

  • C K

    Nearly, any time government wants something it's we the people who pay for it with our hard-earned tax dollars via extortion. Never ever do they reduce our tax bill; if it ever looks like something reduces our costs, eventually, it will come up as another fee, fine, tax, etc. Reduce government; restore freedom.

    Monday, July 25 Report this

  • JulesJames

    This "Regional Fire Authority" is creating a tax authority not constrained by the levy lid. This opens the door to massive tax increases supposedly justified by the "bow wave" of upcoming expenses. That doesn't make sense. If combining the two fire departments is intended to save money, then don't increase tax burden opportunities by doing so! Figure out a budget for the combined department, figure out what percentage each municipality should pay, figure out a cost-overrun system.

    Monday, July 25 Report this

  • Deskandchairs

    Sure, this is good for Olympia, but doesn't that mean it is bad for Tumwater? Let's see that analysis.

    What politician came up with this "bow wave" jargon. Too cool to speak English?

    Tuesday, July 26 Report this

  • LarryJz

    This is a misleading article.

    Property owners will be paying $13.3 million more under the current proposal. It won't be an increase in property taxes per se but along with your property tax assessment will be a Fire Benefit Charge designed to charge you more to hit a target of $13 million.

    While the proposal may be good for Olympia city official's budget, the property tax will be reinstituted for the fire district and you will be charged an additional $13.3 million on top of that. Worse, the Fire Benefit Charge is not subject to property tax limitations and is projected to grow to $18.1 million (36%) in six-years after implementation

    Whether this is a good thing or not, it is in***bent on our officials to be straight forward about the impact and let the public decide based on the facts.

    Friday, July 29 Report this