RFA committee discusses possible FBC adjustments
By Lorilyn C. Lirio
Members of the regional fire authority’s planning committee are considering six options for adjusting the formula for the fire compensation levy (FBC).
At the RFA Planning Committee meeting held on Monday, September 12, consultant Karen Reed said she had reviewed the classification and weight for the potential adjustment of the FBC formula.
The FBC is a proposed annual charge on structures based on the estimated firefighting resources needed to fight a fire.
The options discussed were:
- Option 1: The BCF is distributed in proportion to the square footage of each building category. For example, 66% of the total square footage is single-family residences, so single-family residences pay about the same % FBC including sprinkler data for apartments and commercials.
- Option 1-A: Residential sprinkler data added. Revenue lost due to sprinkler rebates has been transferred to residential properties, resulting in a slight increase in the weighting of the residential building category – to 0.582 from the original 0.58.
- Option 2: Share of the residential sector reduced by 6%; the share of the commercial sector increased by 6%.
- Option 3: Divide residential into three categories, with weights increasing with square footage. Breakpoints at 2,000 and 3,000 square feet. The residential and commercial shares are the same as Option 2.
- Option 4: Major reduction for small residential (1,500 square feet maximum) and small commercial (1,000 square feet maximum). The total residential share decreased by 8% and the commercial share increased by 8%.
According to Reed, adjustment is a reality-based formula. “You have to weigh in. Does that make sense considering the assets you need to buy to serve your community? Does it make sense to ask commercial – especially large buildings – to pay a little more and try to give residents an ability to pay a little less?
Olympia Fire Union President Steven Busz expressed concern about adjusting the weights based on house size. He said if there was a residential fire, the responses would be the same – the same number of engines regardless of the size of the house.
Reed warned that these adjustments would alter the FRG’s budget.
In previous meetings, Reed said the FBC could provide some $13.5 million in additional funds to the FRG in 2024.
Modification of the BCF formula
Committee member Michael Althauser asked if there would be any legal implications of changing the FBC formula.
“I understand that other people have done it differently. Is there a legal implication…or is there a degree of confidence that we could subject this to legal liability if we play in kind of off the beaten path?” said Althauser.
Olympia City Solicitor Mark Barber explained that they could encounter uncharted territory with a formula that other RFAs have not used. He said the committee should justify how it came up with the new formula that was not used in the Washington state RFAs.
“It would create problems and challenges,” commented Barber.
Committee member Jim Cooper is open to writing a new formula or adjusting the structure of the FBC.
“If you’re writing a whole new formula, I would advise you to step back a year and do a test run to make sure it would work. Because the last thing you want is voters approving it. , then have the tender rejected. Above 35% of your income, it is not valid. It is an option… We can slow this down and take a long time to build something new, do the homework and figure out how we can improve it. That’s a possibility, but it doesn’t sync with your timeline,” Reed commented.
Reed said their goal is to present the draft RFA plan to city council sometime in late October through November.
By the end of November, they expect Olympia and Tumwater town councils to take action on the RFA plan – either approve, amend or reject.