RFA committee reviews FBC formula with and without fire flow

Legal conundrum


The Regional Fire Authority planning committee is exploring a new Fire Benefit Charge (FBC) to address its "regressivity."

The FBC is an annual fee structure based on a formula designed to fund the new fire authority.

Calculating FBC

The suggestion is to have an FBC calculation without Fire Flow and would charge per square foot for the residential, apartments, and commercials.

The current FBC formula that other RFAs have used in the state is:

Fire Benefit Charge = Fire Flow x Cost Per Gallon Factor x Bldg. Weight Factor x Hazard Reduction Factors x Hazard Increase Factors x Exemption/Discount Factors

To get the Fire Flow factor: Fire Flow = Square Root (Total Square Feet) x 18

To get the Cost per Gallon factor:  Cost per Gallon = Total FBC ÷ Fire Flow x .01

To get the Building Weight factor: Building Weight = weight for building type/size

At the RFA planning committee meeting on October 3, Blindheim presented a table reflecting FBC fees in residential, apartments, and commercials with a square foot in the formula.

Blindheim described the proposed new FBC formula as less regressive, giving a break to smaller residences and favoring small businesses. However, he said they might have a legal problem if they adopted purely square feet in the formula and did not include Fire Flow – which they say is regressive by nature - as part of the computation.

"It looks clean to use the flat square footage. It feels more equitable in the residential and commercial when I look at the total costs. But I don't know if we still think that's legally right," committee member Jim Cooper said.

Legal challenge

Olympia City Manager Jay Burney commented on the new formula, which  uses measurements in square feet, something that has never been used before, which he said would set "a precedent which would open for the opportunity to challenge us legally."

Olympia City attorney Mark Barber said using a new method – based on square footage – would increase the legal risk.

"The other RFAs have used the formula that we have been discussing, that takes into account Fire Flow and the formula that we have so many questions about. At least, we would be consistent with other RFAS that have been formed in the Washington State," Barber said.

Barber explained a possible scenario of having the RFA underfunded if the FBC formula was challenged, based on square foot, and found invalid. "I don't necessarily think that if the fire authority was created by the requisite number of voters required that would invalidate the creation of the district, but it would be seriously underfunded. RFA then could move forward and try to find another funding method."

Barber said the RFA might turn to a levy lift lid for funding, but it would take time. "During that time, RFA would operate at a severe disadvantage because of insufficient revenue."

If there is no legal risk, committee member Michael Althauser said using a square foot in the formula would be easier to digest and less regressive.

However, when he weighed on the legal risk, Althauser – a lawyer – said the new fire district would be burdened with potentially 18 months of litigation to the tune of half a million dollars.

"If they fail, they would lose a significant chunk of revenue. It will be the cities that are the backstop because we are not going to let the services be inadequate," he added.

Althauser said he would like to focus more on a formula that would take Fire Flow in the calculation because "it seems to be safe legal footing."


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

  • C K

    NO MORE TAXES. PERIOD. Stop dreaming up more ways to extort more money from citizens. PERIOD. It is long past time to reduce government.... at ALL levels.

    Tuesday, October 4, 2022 Report this

  • JulesJames

    This new proposal is just more math antics to justify creating a taxing engine that gets around long-standing the 1% annual tax increase limit law. Death to the RFA! Come up with funding within voter intent.

    Wednesday, October 5, 2022 Report this

  • Larry Dzieza

    The fear of legal entanglements to chill the idea of a less regressive tax requires more staff work. They need to show where in case law or legislative intent that a lawsuit would prevail.

    If the fire flow square root issue is central to the law, where is it in the history of the legislation?

    Given the tremendous variation in how these things are funded among the current 13 or so RFAs, why is this factor so important?

    Many RFAs use "hazard factors" to set the fee. This Oly-Tum proposal does not. A building full of nitro would probably get a higher insurance policy cost vs. a building full of bricks, right? But this proposal whistles past that difference in formulas being used.

    Wednesday, October 5, 2022 Report this

  • olyhiker

    Good grief. Will it never end? Vote them out!

    Wednesday, October 5, 2022 Report this

  • Southsoundguy

    This tax is bordering on arbitrary and capricious. They still can’t tell us why we NEED this. They just want it. Get rid of them.

    Wednesday, October 5, 2022 Report this