Renton Regional Fire Authority (Renton RFA) has introduced Proposition 1 on the August Primary Election ballot.
The ballot measure asks Renton voters to decide on the restoration of the property tax fire levy from its current rate of $0.61 to its original, voter-approved rate of $1.00 per $1,000 of assessed property value (AV) and to allow it to adjust with the local rate of inflation for the next five years.The fire levy has not been restored since it was initially approved by voters in 2016.
The fire levy is one of the main funding sources in Renton RFA’s two-part funding system that works to maintain fire protection and life safety services throughout the community, as well as expand programs to meet growing needs.
“A lot of people aren’t aware that Washington State law prohibits Renton RFA from collecting more than 1% in property tax revenue year-over-year,” said Fire Chief Steve Heitman, explaining why the measure is on the August ballot.
“What that means for agencies like ours is that when property values rise, like they have for several years, our fire levy rate must decrease to ensure we do not capture more than 1% in additional property tax revenue. A 1% limitation on our property tax revenue growth each year does not keep pace with the rate of local inflation and is what leads to us asking voters to decide on restoring the fire levy to its original, voter-approved rate.”
Renton’s original fire levy rate began at $1.00 per $1,000 of AV in 2016. Since then, due to the continual increase in local property values, the rate has fallen to $0.61 per $1,000 of AV in 2023, and it is projected to continue to decline if Proposition 1 is rejected.
“Our highest priority is ensuring our community receives the best services possible,” said Chief Heitman. “If the fire levy is restored, Renton RFA will be able to maintain current service levels and replace our oldest fire station (Station 16 in Eastern Highlands) with a new, 50-year station. This measure will decide the future of fire protection and life safety services throughout the Renton community. We ask that voters take the time to learn about this measure and make their voices heard through their vote by the August 1 election date.”
Additional key facts about Proposition 1 and the fire levy include:
• Not a new tax. The fire levy is part of existing property taxes. Due to state law, as property values rise, the fire levy rate decreases each year. Proposition 1 asks voters to restore the levy rate to the same level they approved back in 2016 and allow it to adjust for inflation for the next five years.
• Fire Benefit Charge (FBC) will be decreased. If Proposition 1 is approved, Renton RFA will be able to reduce the fire benefit charge (the other half of the two-part funding system) by up to 50%, reducing the impact of Proposition 1 on taxpayers while maintaining fire and life safety services.
• Long-term financial stability is secured. If approved, Proposition 1 would solidify Renton RFA’s financial stability for a minimum of six years — possibly longer — before the RFA would need to re-evaluate or go back to the voters.
• Discounts and exemptions apply. Low-income seniors and disabled persons who qualify for a discount or exemption on their property tax will continue to receive discounts per state law.
According to the Renton RFA, if Proposition 1 is approved, the fire protection and life safety service levels, response capabilities, and programs that the Renton community has grown accustomed to will be maintained.
“Proposition 1 will stabilize Renton RFA’s two-part funding system, ensuring the organizations receive their optimal financial rate on the replacement project for Fire Station 16, saving public funds in the form of interest savings over the life of the project. This stabilization will also mean that Renton RFA will not need to go back to voters regarding the fire levy for a minimum of six years, possibly more,” said the Renton RFA in a press release.
If the measure is rejected, Renton RFA will have to rely more heavily on the Fire Benefit Charge (FBC) to bridge the financial gap.
“The FBC can only make up 60% of our total operating budget. Once the 60% FBC threshold is reached our expenses will officially outpace our revenues. At that point, we will either need to go back to the voters for a potentially greater fire levy restoration or face impacts to our staffing and service levels,” said the Renton RFA.