Olympia and Tumwater failed to correct Fire Benefit Charge errors identified by their quality assurance consultant


Deployment Dynamics Group (DDG) was hired to review the proposed Olympia Tumwater Fire Authority (RFA) database, which would be the basis for a Fire Benefit Charge (FBC) to be charged to Olympia and Tumwater property owners. The JOLT reviewed the consultants’ findings and found that while some issues were corrected, others still reflect errors in the Fire Benefit Charge calculator.

The RFA is the issue in front of Tumwater and Olympia voters this month as Proposition 1. 

The consultant selected 75 land parcels in the RFA database for validation with the data from the Thurston County Assessor and then applied the current Fire Benefit Charge formula.

The report prepared by DDG’s Larry Rabel, a consultant to many Washington State fire jurisdictions, noted many inconsistencies between the OTRFA database and Thurston County's.  The errors ranged from failing to identify millions of square feet of commercial and apartment structures to failing to exempt from the FBC charge religious and government buildings as required by state law.  In addition, there were inaccuracies on counting the square footage on a variety of parcel types.

Missing square footage data

The largest RFA-wide issue found by the consultant is missing square footage from land parcels.  The systemic issue for commercial properties is where the Assessor’s database contained multiple identical parcel numbers that describe the many buildings on a commercial parcel. The RFA was only picking up the first instance and ignoring the remaining structures.  This was corrected by the RFA planners, as reported in The JOLT last November.

While this error was fixed, others identified by the consultant were not and the cities’ Fire Benefit Calculator, provided to assist the public to estimate the FBC for specific properties, continues to show incorrect charges, including those identified by DDG.  

'Taxing' churches

The Washington statute that enabled creation of RFAs specifies that properties that are exempted by the state from property taxes are also to be exempt from a FBC, which is a fee, not a tax. But the RFA database includes religious and government buildings.  The consultant identified Evergreen Christian Center as a property to be charged the FBC.  When The JOLT entered that parcel number (78400100000) into the calculator it was found to be charged an FBC despite being exempt by state law.

City-owned properties would be billed the FBC

The consultant wrote, “It appears that all City of Olympia and Tumwater properties have been assessed. Included in these properties are all fire stations that will become part of the fire authority”.  The JOLT’s check on the example provided by the consultant, shows that Parcel # 82700100100, which is the Tumwater Fire Station building on 555 Israel Road, SW would be charged $3,631.78 according to the official calculator.

The inclusion of government buildings was not just limited to Olympia and Tumwater-owned buildings.  The consultant found that the State of Washington’s buildings, school districts and others were also erroneously being charged by the RFA.  The JOLT verified that these problems remain in the database as of today for a Department of General Administration building on New Market Street which would be charged $25,011.86 (Parcel # 99700417500).  A random check showed Intercity Transit (Parcel # 78502200700) would also be charged.

Editor's Note:  To see the March 29, 2023, debate between proponents and opponents of Proposition 1, please click here.


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  • jimlazar

    There are many reasons to vote NO on the RFA.

    This article shows that there are huge errors in the estimated revenue. Of course, the RFA won't actually charge Intercity Transit, Evergreen Christian Center, or the fire stations, because they are all legally exempt. That means that the Fire Benefit Charges they have calculated will not actually produce enough money to cover their initial budget.

    Even thought that budget does not plan for any new fire fighters, fire stations, or fire engines, it still requires an additional $10.5 million/year charge on our property tax bills. Their (flawed) calculator says my house is $417/year. If 10% of the properties are actually exempt, then that will have to go up 10% to cover that shortfall.

    And go up even more if they are actually provide adequate service. They plan zero new firefighters in the seven-year plan. But the population is going up about 2% per year. So we will have 14% worse service if they don't add any staff or equipment. Which means the Fire Benefit Charge will be a lot more than $417 within a couple of years. They can raise it up to 4X (~$1,600 on my house; something similar for YOUR house).

    Meanwhile the formula charges small apartment buildings a much higher rate than large ones. A 5-unit, 800 square-foot apartment building would pay $195/year per unit. But a 50-unit building of 800-square-foot apartments would pay only $60/year, and a 200-unit apartment building only $30/year. So the small complexes, owned by local real estate investors providing for their retirement get the shaft, while the big national corporate landlords get off easy. The could have simply done it on a per-square-foot basis, but they instead chose a "square root of the square feet" formula that shifts costs to smaller property owners.

    Our neighbors in Littlerock and Rochester fell for the RFA gimmick six years ago. Last November, voters, fed up with the higher property tax bills, did not approved continuation of the extra charges on their property tax bills. So the RFA had to lay off much of its staff, and close two of their five fire stations. We don't want that kind of problem here in Olympia and Tumwater.

    For honest information about this measure, and how it threatens the quality of our fire and emergency service response, visis

    Big new fees. no new service. Vote NO. Keep your fire service local.

    Saturday, April 15, 2023 Report this

  • Citizen

    The RFA's failure to correct how fees will be assessed is a deliberate effort to convince homeowners to approve the RFA. How? By telling us it will cost less per property owner than the actual fees charged after approval. Remember, if the RFA is approved, it will have the authority to charge additional fees without a public vote. That means a few bureaucrats will decide how much more in property taxes oops fees you will pay. Absolute authority corrupts absolutely.

    Consider your vote carefully, we are being ask to authorize a new taxing (fees) district with authority to raise fees without voter approval. We will not be able to hold the RFA accountable with a public vote for years to come.

    VOTE NO. Retain you voting power to hold government responsible to the people.

    Sunday, April 16, 2023 Report this

  • JW

    Is this a case of the actual database being in error or has the calculator database simply not been updated?

    Monday, April 17, 2023 Report this