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New Options for Creating Fire and Metro Park Districts

The 2017 legislative session yielded a new optional method for establishing a fire district and an amendment granting an element of flexibility in the establishment of metropolitan park districts.

Creating New Fire Protection Districts in Cities or Towns

ESSB 5628 is a new authorization that permits a city council to submit a proposition to the voters to form a fire district with boundaries matching the city limits.

A city pursuing this option must prepare and set a date for a public hearing on a resolution calling for the creation of a fire protection district (FPD).  The FPD must have boundaries that match the city limits and include a financing plan that proposes to use either property taxes, as authorized for FPDs in chapter 52.16 RCW, or benefit charges, per chapter 52.18 RCW.

The financing plan must also detail several items (see below) regarding property taxes that will be imposed by the FPD and city or town subsequent to the formation of the district.

  1. The dollar amount the fire protection district will levy the initial year in which the district imposes any of the regular property taxes in RCW 52.16.130, 52.16.140, or 52.16.160.
  2. The city's or town's highest lawful levy (for the purposes of RCW 84.55.092) minus the proposed fire protection district's levy amount. This reduced, highest lawful levy becomes the city's or town's highest lawful levy for subsequent levy limit calculations under chapter 84.55 RCW.
  3. The estimated, aggregate net dollar amount impact on property owners within the city or town, based on the proposed changes.

The new law also establishes that the members of the city or town council serve in an ex officio capacity as the fire commissioners unless they relinquish their authority to a board of elected commissioners.   

FPDs are also prohibited from forming an ambulance service if it would compete with a private ambulance service, with certain exceptions.

A city or town may alternately propose the initial imposition of a benefit charge as a revenue source for the fire protection district as provided in chapter 52.18 RCW.

More Flexible Metropolitan Park District Formation

SSB 5138 authorizes a local jurisdiction proposing or approving a petition regarding the formation of a metropolitan park district (MPD) to limit the purpose and taxing powers of the proposed MPD in its resolution calling for the election.

While the statute sets the maximum, aggregate levy for a metropolitan park district at $0.75 cents per thousand dollars of assessed value, it also provides for an alternate method of MPD formation where the ballot proposition would limit the taxing powers to a levy rate that could not be exceeded unless approved by the voters at a subsequent election.

SSB 5138 also permits a local government to limit scope of purpose to specifically identified public parks or recreational facilities. To do so the ballot proposition must specify those public parks or recreational facilities to be funded, which may be accomplished by referencing the MPD plan that was approved by the legislative authority of the city, county, or contiguous group of cities or counties proposing the formation of the district or by referencing a specific facility or public park. 

Questions? Comments?

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MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

Photo of Lynn Nordby

About Lynn Nordby

Lynn’s public sector career included over 30 years in local government management and experience in virtually all municipal services including the operations of a wide variety of municipal utilities. He is now retired.