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.