South County Fire to seek benefit charge renewal in Aug. 6 primary election

Photo courtesy South County Fire

The South County Fire Board of Commissioners Tuesday night unanimously approved a ballot measure for voters to consider a 10-year renewal of a benefit charge to maintain fire and emergency medical services.

The measure will be on the Aug. 6 primary election ballot for regional fire authority voters in Brier, Lynnwood, Mill Creek, Mountlake Terrace and unincorporated southwest Snohomish County.

According to a South County Fire news release announcing the ballot measure, the benefit charge was first approved by voters in 2020 to provide a more fair and balanced way to fund crucial emergency services. Unlike levies based on a property’s assessed value, the benefit charge is based on a building’s size, risks and hazards. Industrial and commercial properties with higher risk pay more than residential properties because it takes fewer firefighters and fire engines to put out a fire in a house than a large commercial structure, the fire authority said.

The benefit charge is set each year by the Board of Fire Commissioners. In 2024, the owner of a 2,000-square-foot home paid a fire benefit charge of $71.64, which amounts to $1.27 total increase over four years.

Seniors, people with disabilities and low-income households maintain any current exemptions they have through the county. There is also a discount for fire alarms and sprinkler systems.

The benefit charge does not apply to the City of Edmonds, which receives emergency services through a contract with South County Fire.

Apply to serve on voters’ pamphlet pro and con committees

South County Fire is seeking people interested in serving on the voters’ pamphlet pro and con committee. Each committee will have a maximum of three members who will be appointed by the Board of Fire Commissioners to provide statements in favor or opposition to the benefit charge ballot measure to appear in the voters’ pamphlet.

To apply, submit a brief statement of interest by mail or email to Board Executive Assistant Melissa Blankenship, South County Fire, 12425 Meridian Ave. S, Everett WA 98208 or All applications must be received by South County Fire no later than noon on April 16, 2024. Applicants should indicate whether they are interested in the pro or con committee.

Learn more about the benefit charge on the South County Fire website,

  1. This is yet another smoke and mirror scheme by South County to obscure their failure to control costs and run an efficient Fire/EMA service. Brier residents’ costs went up 74% last year when voters agreed to be annexed into the Fire District. Edmonds’ contract costs have increased by 50% over the past 4 years and will go higher like Brier if residents vote for annexation. Edmonds residents already pay $1,952 for each Fire/EMS call per Council member Will Chen. Why does South County not report on their 5 or 10 year history of per resident annual costs and per response call costs so taxpayers can easily see whether the Fire District has controlled costs or not? Why should residents pay the same for EMS calls as they do for fire calls? Why do residents of Medina only pay Bellevue Fire contract prices of $224 per resident per year, when Edmonds residents pay South County $293 per year (which will increase like Brier’s)? Why should property owners pay Fire/EMS taxes on land values that have nothing to do with Fire/EMS staffing or call costs? South County should be forced to report on their actual costs per resident and per call and should not be allowed to have Fire Benefit Charges obscure those costs. All South County residents should vote ‘no’ on an FBC increase.

    1. Bill — that $1,952/call number is flawed. It is not a good comparison because there are so many factors that play into that cost that are inconsistent from department to department. But… if you compare South County Fire to other all-hazards fire departments, like Bellevue ($3,043.19/call, 2023), Seattle ($2,400.15/call, 2023), or Snohomish Regional ($4,023.77/call, 2022), you will find that SCF’s number is much lower than theirs.

      I presume residents of Medina pay less because they need less. Medina has a population of 2,857 (compared to Edmonds’ 42,593) and a higher average income, which can play into a lower utilization of 911 for medical emergencies. Let’s please compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges.

      Funding Fire/EMS services through property taxes ensures that these critical services have a reliable stream of funding, which is crucial for maintaining operations, staffing, and readiness.

      1. Brook-
        all due respect – the per capita and per call cost numbers are the metrics that really count to taxpayers. Funding thru property taxes is flawed because up to 70% of assessed valuations are based on land valuations which have absolutely nothing to do with Fire/EMS delivery costs. You can get consistent funding streams from residents and houses just like is done for utilities, water/sewer, garbage services, auto license fees. Those service related fees have way more visibility and transparency than property tax levies provide. Fire Districts should be providing way more transparency on per capita costs and per call costs so taxpayers understand what they are paying for , and understand whether Fire Districts are efficient or not. btw- you said Fire/EMS costs are inconsistent from one fire district to another? Why is that? If it’s because of service differences, then the costs and funding should reflect those differences and taxpayers should understand that the costs are fair and equitable and transparent. Taxpayers deserve to know what their true Fire/EMS costs are per resident and per call, rather than having those costs buried under tax levies and FBC’s. Fire Districts should be more forthcoming and transparent with their efforts to control costs and to be more efficient. Why would you say residents of Medina pay less because they get less. That’s a stretch.

        1. Thanks for the reply. Personally, I would never be in favor of a usage-based funding system for emergency services, which is what I understand you are suggesting? Please correct me if I’m wrong. Utility-style fees based on usage could disproportionately affect lower-income households who, despite potentially higher usage, are less able to afford the costs. I believe those who can afford to pay more (ie: higher property value) should pay more and those who can’t, should not, to fund a reliable and prepared fire district. This may be where we disagree fundamentally on the principle of the RFA.

          In terms of why fire/EMS costs are inconsistent from district to district – the CBAs for uniformed personnel are different, each department has different specialty resources (like hazardous materials, technical rescue, water rescue, and community resource paramedics) that are needed to adequately serve their population, different staffing configurations, different ratios of ladder trucks and engine companies, etc. Maybe the RFA could do a better job at highlighting its impact, but I think the chiefs did great in the annual report to the council at the end of last month.


        2. Re: Medina paying less because they “get less” in terms of fire services primarily refers to the lower utilization of these services, a factor significantly influenced by Medina’s smaller population and possibly lower emergency call volume. In smaller or more affluent communities like Medina, there is often a lower frequency of calls for emergency services, including both fire and medical emergencies. This lower demand can lead to a reduced overall cost of service provision when distributed across the population.

          Moreover, a smaller population size can simplify the logistics of service delivery. Fewer residents and a smaller geographic area can result in fewer resources required for comprehensive coverage, contributing to lower costs per capita.

          I don’t think it would be feasible to report on specific calls per specific users of emergency services and to break down the resources used for every response, however, I think reaching out to the Board of the RFA with your questions could be a great start. I know they’re more than happy to explain.


  2. This is the next big shock that will reverberate thru Edmonds. We chose to get rid of our own locally controlled under a Mayor Edmonds Fire Dept. to save money during the Earling Administration and now we are going to pay dearly for that miscalculation. Our Council will again be sold a bill of goods and will most likely do exactly the wrong thing. I know Fire Service would have cost much more either way but we would have had local chiefs who knew our buildings and needs and really cared about the town, not just how to get more money for more possible mismanagement. Chiefs would have had to answer to a Strong Mayor and our Council. That’s what you give up with all this Regional “cost savings” hype. In the end you save dimes and lose dollars.

  3. Correction: I’m told this actually occurred during the Haakenson administration. No excuse; wasn’t really following town politics until the Connector debacle. Asleep at the switch as the cliche goes.

    1. Clinton, you have very few facts in your original comment, only faulty opinions. I was a council member when the council voted in 2009 to make the fire change, effective with 2010 – I was a strong supporter of the deal with FD1. The same firefighters continued to staff our three stations. The Edmonds battalion chiefs reported to the FD1 chief, and a few years later an Edmonds staff member took over the FD1 position. And the contract with FD1 saved our city more that $1 million each year.

      The contract was the right thing to do at the time. Fourteen years later it is only reasonable that all of the current options need to be evaluated.

  4. Ron, in fairness to you, I’m sure that did save some money and it probably did look like a real bargain at the time. But, the fact is that action did kind of set the stage for where we are at today with fire service and how we get it. In terms of my respect for you, you are the person in town who taught me that I was way too liberal in my thinking on everything and that had clouded my judgement on lots of things. I sincerely do credit and thank you for that. Now I think you need to take a good hard look at where you are coming from on lots of issues, as I think your especially strong Conservative leanings sometimes cloud your usual good judgement. I was irritated when I wrote the above comment and I owe you a public apology and a digital hand shake. You are a good guy! Most Edmonds citizens, including myself, didn’t pay much attention during your tenure and we didn’t do much to try to help you not just take the Exectutive viewpoint most of the time.

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