Prop #1 Fire Lid Lift
Maintain, Enhance, Improve
On the November 8, 2022 ballot, Cowlitz 2 Fire & Rescue is requesting to lift the cap on the existing property tax levy rate. This “lid lift” will restore the levy rate to $1.35 per thousand from $0.97 per thousand in 2023, with up to a 5% annual adjustment during 2024-2028.
Lid Lift funding will:
- We staff 3 fire stations daily with 13 responders.
- Personnel costs are 68% of our annual budget.
- Call volume total has increased by over 1,000 calls in the past few years.
- Increase retention and improve recruitment to maintain our rapid response.
- Directly affects fire protection class rating which reduces home insurance costs.
- Provides a high level of care for our citizens.
- Increases the skill level of our firefighters.
- Oldest fire engine is 13 years past suggested lifespan.
- Oldest ambulance is 11 years past suggested lifespan.
- Older buildings need repairs & improvements.
- Provides us with the tools and apparatus to be ready to help our citizens.
Our 2022 Budget- $12,000,121
Property taxes generate the largest portion of our income. We also contract with Cowlitz County and the City of Kelso to provide Fire Marshal and fire investigation Services, provide fire protection contracts, and we obtain grants to support our budget as much as possible. Ambulance billing also contributes to our annual income. Other fire districts our size typically get 75% of their income from taxes. We have worked very hard to diversify our revenue streams so that we have a steady flow of income all year long rather than just spikes of revenue during property tax collection time like most fire districts.
Our biggest annual expense is personnel costs for wages and benefits; we spend the most money on the people providing you service. This is similar to other departments in our area. We budget each year for capital maintenance and replacement, and for professional services like IT support, billing services, and consultants. Our general operating costs include things like tools, fuel, supplies, uniforms, safety equipment and utilities. The costs for all these things have risen significantly in the past two years.
The Effect of Inflation
How much will this lid lift cost?
Voters will decide whether or not to increase the levy rate from the current levy rate of $0.97 per thousand to $1.35 per thousand. This will cost the owner of a property valued at $300,000 about $9 a month.
This is less than the maximum fire district levy rate of $1.50. Cowlitz 2 Fire & Rescue is dedicated to being good stewards of taxpayer dollars and has proposed an amount that will fund fire protection and consider the needs of our citizens.
Property Tax Basics
Assessments and Levy Rates
The levy process has two players:
- The TAXPAYERS (i.e. You, Me, ABC Company, Bits & Bytes Inc, etc)
- The TAXING DISTRICTS (i.e. Fire Departments, Schools, Cities, County, Roads, etc)
We only need to know one piece of data from each player:
- From the Taxpayer – The VALUE of their property
- From the Fire District – Their levy rate
With this information, the basic levy process is relatively simple: the levy rate is multiplied by the total assessed value of the property in the district. This is the total tax collected.
The Cowlitz County Assessor’s Office sets the assessed value for property based on market value and ensures that our levy rates are within voter approved limits.
Each taxpayer then pays taxes on the value of the property they own based on the levy rate for their district. Every property within a district must be assessed at the same levy rate as all properties within that district.
Value of Parcels in District x The Levy Rate = Amount of Tax Due
For example: a home assessed at $275,000 x 1.35 per thousand = $371.25
The taxes are then collected by the County Treasurer’s Office and distributed to the taxing districts.
Levy Limit Laws
Washington Administrative Code (WAC) 458-19 establishes limits on property tax levies.
District-wide total regular tax collected on existing property and improvements cannot exceed the total collected the previous year by more than 1%. Voters may authorize tax levies exceeding the 1% increase limit.
State law also limits levy rate for fire districts to $1.50 per $1,000 assessed value for regular levies. Bonds or additional levies can be added in addition to the regular levy, but all increases above $1.50 must be approved by the voters.
Property Tax Exemptions
The Revised Code of Washington provides several programs that offer property tax relief to qualifying applicants, including for seniors, disabled persons, destroyed property, historic property, church-owned property, farm equipment, and non-profit owned property.
To find out more about the exemptions and how to apply, visit https://www.co.cowlitz.wa.us/448/Property-Tax-Relief or contact the Cowlitz County Assessor’s Office.