Regional Fire Authority Planning Committee
Regional Fire Authority (RFA) Committee Meetings
North Whatcom Fire & Rescue and Whatcom County Fire District #4 Regional Fire Authority Planning Committee.
North Whatcom Fire and Rescue (NWFR) and Whatcom County Fire District #4 (WCFD4) have agreed to explore the potential of creating a Regional Fire Authority encompassing both jurisdictions. A Planning Committee, composed of three Fire Commissioners from each agency, has been created to lead discussions.
WCFD4 Commissioner Mark Chamberlain has been elected Chair of the Planning Committee; Scott Fischer with NWFR has been elected Vice-Chair.
The mission of the Planning Committee is to create and propose to the elected leadership of NWFR and WCFD4 a plan for a regional fire authority encompassing the entire territory within the jurisdictional boundaries of the NWFR and the WCFD4, including the proposed governance, design, financing and development of fire protection and emergency service facilities and operations, including maintenance and preservation of facilities or system. The Committee’s responsibilities are set forth in Ch. 52.26 RCW. The Planning Committee is advisory to the Board of Commissioners of NWFR and the Board of Commissioners of the District.
Special Meeting Announcements 2021
- Wednesday, April 7 – Due to COVID19 safety, public attendance not permitted
- Thursday, April 1 -Due to COVID-19 safety, public attendance not permitted
- Monday, March 29 -Due to COVID-19 safety, public attendance not permitted
- Tuesday, March 23 -Due to COVID-19 safety, public attendance not permitted
- Tuesday, March 9 – Due to COVID19 safety, public attendance not permitted
- Thursday, February 25 – Due to COVID19 safety, public attendance not permitted
- Friday, February 19 – Due to COVID19 safety, public attendance not permitted_Cancelled
- Thursday, February 4 – Due to COVID19 safety, public attendance not permitted
- Thursday, January 14 – Due to COVID19 safety, public attendance not permitted
Special Meeting Announcements 2020
- Monday, November 2 – Due to COVID19 safety, public attendance not permitted
- Thursday, October 22 – Due to COVID19 safety, public attendance not permitted
- Wednesday, October 7 – Due to COVID19 safety, public attendance not permitted
- Thursday, September 24 – Due to COVID19 safety, public attendance not permitted
- Wednesday, August 26 – Due to COVID19 safety, public attendance not permitted
A Regional Fire Authority (RFA) is a special purpose district established by voters in a service area that provides funding for fire and emergency medical services. State law provides the framework for cities, towns, and fire districts to consider forming an RFA as a way to gain service efficiencies through consolidation while retaining local control. An RFA can be made up of cities, fire districts, or a combination of the two. The creation of an RFA is authorized by state law (Title 52.26, Revised Code of Washington).
First, participating agencies must reach an agreement on a plan for the RFA; that is the mission of the Planning Committee. The proposed Plan must then be approved by the Boards of Commissioners of both NWFR and WCFD4, who would then call for an election on the proposal. All voters in the proposed service area would be able to vote on the proposition.
NWFR and WCFD4 have been operationally merged by contract for nearly a decade; creating an RFA will take this to a next level within a single unified agency. Creating an RFA will enable full consolidation of the two separate fire agencies and provide an opportunity to achieve further efficiencies in the delivery of fire and emergency services, providing a more efficient oversight structure through a single governance board, and stabilize funding in support of fire suppression and basic life support services.
Between 2010 and 2018, Whatcom County’s population grew 11.3% (excluding Bellingham). Fro that same time frame, our calls for service increased 44.92%, excluding auto-aid calls. NWFR has not increased its fire levy in 11 years, and WCFD4 has not increased its fire levy in 27 years. WCFD4 did increase its EMS levy in 2013 and passed a bond to build Station 12 and the training facility. We cannot continue to operate in our old financial models.
We have consolidated operations and no longer operate with duplication of anything except governing boards.
The Planning Committee would meet again, determine what was not appealing to the voters about the RFA proposal, and decide whether to put the issue on a ballot again. The issue can be voted on three times. If it does not pass on the third try, then it’s a dead issue.
There are currently thirteen RFAs in the state of Washington including: South Whatcom Fire Authority, North Snohomish County Fire Authority; Marysville Fire Authority, South Snohomish County Fire Authority, Renton Regional Fire Authority, Valley Regional Fire Authority, West Benton Fire & Rescue, Kent Fire Department Regional Fire Authority, Riverside Fire Authority, North Mason Regional Fire Authority, Southeast Thurston Fire Authority, West Thurston Regional Fire Authority.
Yes. If the RFA is approved by voters, firefighters and other staff from both NWFR and WCFD4 will become employees of the RFA. Similarly, the fire stations and fire trucks, and other emergency response vehicles will become the responsibility of the RFA.
The RFA has the same funding authority as a fire district. In sum, the RFA can either be funded by a property tax, or a combination of a property tax and a voter-approved “fire benefit charge.” The RFA Planning Committee has yet to decide upon the funding plan, but at this time anticipates the RFA would initially rely simply on property tax levies.
A fire benefit charge (FBC) is not a property tax. It is a charge based on a national standard and considers required firefighting resources, the size of the building(s) on a property, and the hazards associated with those building(s). For example, a business storing pressurized gas products would pay a larger FBC than an office building of the same size. A new house and an older house of the same size will typically pay the same amount. Eligible low-income senior citizens and disabled persons would typically receive the same percentage discounts on their FBC as they currently do for property taxes. The FBC funding mechanism requires the approval of not less than 60% of the voters and must be re-approved by voters every six years.
Again, at this time the Committee anticipates the RFA will initially rely upon property taxes to finance operations and not seek approval for an FBC. For more information about FBCs see: coming soon
Costs cannot be firmly estimated until the RFA Plan being developed by the Planning Committee is completed.
The Planning Committee will conduct public meetings as the Plan is developed to answer questions and get input. Meeting summaries and materials the Planning Committee is reviewing will be posted on the website. You can also submit questions and comments at email@example.com.
We will update our website and social media as news develops. We will advertise our public Open Houses in the Bellingham Herald, the Lynden Tribune and the Northern Light, both print and digital. You can also find news in our monthly newsletter, which is emailed to addresses in both fire districts. To be sure your email address is on our list, please send your email addresses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The schedule calls for the RFA Plan to be developed and submitted to the Fire District Boards of Commissioners by April 2021, and approved by early-May. There will be public hearings associated with the consideration of the RFA Plan and there will be public education and outreach effort following the adoption of the RFA Plan so that voters can be well informed. The schedule calls for the RFA measure to be placed on the August 3, 2021, ballot.
The RFA is to be governed by a Board of Commissioners that will initially be comprised of representation from both Fire Districts; the Planning Committee will develop a more detailed governance proposal in the coming months. Once created, the RFA Board is responsible for approving the RFA budget each year and must conduct a public hearing as part of the budget process.
Fire Stations are located in areas to ensure targeted response times can be met consistently throughout the service territory. The RFA Plan will evaluate response times and resource needs to determine whether to propose any change to current firefighter staffing and station locations.
If the RFA passes, we anticipate that all facilities and equipment will become the property of the RFA. Station 12 would continue to be a regional training center. The training center is a potential revenue center and currently pays for itself.
If the City of Bellingham annexes your property, you would then be served by Bellingham Fire Department and would no longer be subject to fire district levies (pre-RFA), or RFA levies if the voters approve creation of the RFA. You would be subject to Bellingham’s general tax levy, which supports fire and all other city services.
Unless the RFA and the City otherwise agreed, the station would remain under the ownership and operation of RFA and would continue to serve parts of the RFA outside of the City limits. The same is true if voters do not approve the RFA—District 4 would continue to own the fire station and NWFR would continue to operate out of the station.
The “City of Bellingham 2018 Annexation Strategy” report prepared by City staff estimates a total of about 22% of the assessed value of District 4 is located in the City’s annexation area, about 907 acres/1.42 square miles or 6% of the total area of District 4. Chief Van der Veen has spoken to Bellingham Fire Chief Bill Hewett about their annexation plans, and Chief Hewett stated that the City is not actively pursuing any annexations at this time.