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Frequently Asked Questions

What’s on my election ballot?

West Thurston Regional Fire Authority is asking voters to restore its regular fire levy to $1.50 per $1,000 assessed valuation. This is called a levy lid lift. The current fire levy has fallen to $0.97 per $1,000 assessed value. The last time the fire district asked voters to restore the regular fire levy was in 2008.


The levy lid lift will be listed as Proposition 1 on your ballot.


If passed, the levy lid lift will be limited to six years beginning in 2024 and concluding 2029. During the six-year period the annual limit factor will be up to 6%. The “limit factor” is a percentage limitation on revenue growth from year-to-year. State law requires that the percentage limitation on growth (limit factor) be no more than 1% without a vote of the people (a levy lid lift). As an example, if a taxing district had $5,000,000 in tax revenue in 2023, it would be limited to only $50,000 in increased tax revenue in 2024 due to the 1% limit factor. With a majority vote of the people, that number would increase to $300,000 when using a 6% limit factor, rather than $50,000 using a 1% limit factor.

Have voters approved a fire levy lid lift in the past?

The regular fire levy is not a new tax. Voters restored the regular fire levy to $1.50 per $1,000 assessed value in August of 2008.

Why do fire levies drop?

As property values increase, the regular fire levy rate is reduced according to the limit factor, which results in the tax levy rate being lowered from its previously authorized amount. This is called rate compression. As a result of the general, state-mandated limit factor of 1%, Fire Authorities are allowed a 1% revenue increase per year, not including new construction. However, that 1% increase very rarely keeps up with increased costs to deliver emergency services.

Why is West Thurston Regional Fire asking for this levy?

It’s important to note what we are NOT asking for; we are not asking for funding to hire additional firefighters. We are only requesting to keep the current staffing levels. The maintenance and operations levy (M&O) and the regular fire levy are the two main financing sources for our fire department. The M & O levy failed in 2022, and the financial source that made up the majority of our funding expired at the end of that year. The fire department does not get regular funding from the federal, state, or county funding. We listened to the community's feedback regarding the causes of the levy failure and took it into consideration. Although we are making do with less, this is not a long-term financial solution. The approval of the levy lid lift will assist to stabilize our funding so that we can continue to deliver services. We are actively seeking out affordable funding options to enhance our budget.


Since it was last approved and set in 2008, West Thurston Fire's regular fire levy, which is our sole significant source of financing at the moment, has decreased to $0.97. To keep service levels constant for as long as feasible, we are now running on reserves. We have started the following initiatives to make the most of available funds in order to mitigate the effects and maintain service levels to the general public:

  • Heavy budget cuts

  • Eliminated or significantly reduced funding for certain programs.

  • Reduced administrative and Firefighter positions through attrition and left permanent positions unfilled.

  • Delayed capital improvement projects

Meanwhile, demand for service has increased 47% since 2013 and we experienced 1247 simultaneous (overlapping) calls in 2022 which means 37.57% of the time we are managing two or more emergencies at a time. This creates pressure on other fire departments to respond out of their response areas into our communities to handle our emergencies when we have no one else to respond and increases response times.


Because of the severe funding shortfall we are experiencing, we have issued Reduction in Force (RIF) notices to 15 of the 31 responding Firefighter/EMT’s. To maintain existing staffing at 31 responders beyond December of 2022, we are asking for the only major funding source, the regular levy, to be restored at $1.50 per $1,000 assessed valuation.


It’s also important to note that in 2022, your taxes paid to the Fire Department were a combined $2.16 per assessed valuation (levy and M & O). Passage of the levy lid lift will result in a $1.50 per assessed valuation paid to the Fire Department beginning 2024, which is less than previously paid (M & O expired 2022).

What will this cost? If approved by voters, the levy lid lift will restore the regular fire levy to $1.50 per $1,000 assessed value and would be an additional $0.53 per $1,000 assessed value compared to 2023. This equates to approximately $13.25 more per month for the owner of a $300,000 home.

What will you do with the revenue from a passed levy lid lift?

Maintain existing staffing which benefits our community emergency service needs. 

The fire department will use the revenue to maintain current staffing pay for fire station operational costs to prevent closure, maintain response times and reduce the chance of system failure. If the fire department closes fire stations, insurance companies may increase fire insurance premiums. When this occurs depends on when the rating bureau re-evaluates and changes the current fire department rating. Your fire department is currently rated amongst the best of any non-city fire department in the region. The fire department’s Public Protection Classification (PPC rating) is a 4. A 1 rating is the best that a department can get.


What happens if the fire levy lid lift does not pass?

If voters do not pass the levy lid lift, the regular fire levy will fall (due to further rate compression) to a level that would impact our ability to continue delivery of emergency services at the current level. The decrease in funding will restrict West Thurston Fire’s ability to provide safe and effective staffing, negatively increase response times and limit the district’s ability to replace response vehicles and limit the district’s ability to repair fire stations in deteriorating conditions. 


In addition, failure to pass the levy lid lift would not allow West Thurston Fire to complete initiatives outlined in the 2022-2026 Strategic Plan, which are in-place to improve the safety of West Thurston residents, businesses, and visitors. 


Click here to view the full West Thurston Fire’s Strategic Plan

Click here to view the full West Thurston Fire's Strategic Plan Implementation Update 


Could recruiting additional volunteers improve staffing levels?

West Thurston Fire has a rich history of dedicated volunteer firefighters protecting our communities - a history that we are very proud of. As the population grows, industry standards evolve, and demand for emergency services increases, our community needs a staffing model that can be sustained well into the future. Recruit and retention has been a challenge not unique to West Thurston, but state and nationwide.


In the State of Washington, we have a volunteer firefighter staffing challenge that is viewed as having both a recruiting and a retention problem. Overall, we have not recruited volunteers rapidly enough to keep pace with attrition. It is estimated that we recruit approximately 3900 new volunteers statewide each year although that number continues to decline, and in recent years, we are losing about 3700 per year statewide. Further, in Washington State, we are governed by a standard (NFPA 1720) that indicates the state actually needs 9000 more responders to provide adequate coverage and meet stated response times.[1] Most civic organizations have experienced declines greater than 63% over the past two decades [2]


West Thurston Fire has been lucky to have dedicated volunteers, some that have served for 25 years or more. We continue to explore revamping our program to include using different recruitment avenues, improving reimbursement rates, flexible scheduling and specialized training programs to address the all hazard needs of the community.


Our volunteers are all extremely dedicated. However, many district volunteers work full-time and are not available 24/7 to meet our citizens’ service needs. 


We are eager to achieve a staffing model that is inclusive of both career and volunteer firefighters and can provide safe, sustainable, and efficient emergency services to our citizens. 

How fire departments are funded

How does the fire department spend the property tax money?


Fire departments are one of the only truly Community funded and Community owned Services. Fire departments receive a majority of funding from property and business owners who live within the response jurisdiction and are designed to protect the people who live in the response jurisdiction.


Fire departments are not-for-profit public services; meaning all fire department funding can ONLY be used to purchase and equip fire stations and hire the people (firefighters) who are the stewards (employees/volunteers) of the people to care for the fire stations and equipment. They are trained to deploy the community owned emergency service resource to serve the community’s emergency service needs. 

The State of Washington authorizes a fire district or regional fire authority to assess a tax up to $1.50 per $1000 of assessed property value (junior taxing district).

Property tax assessed value= $100,000 / 1000 = 100 X $1.50 = $150.00 per year

West Thurston Fire is NOT funded by Federal, State or County tax funds.

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Why have fire department costs increased?


Most fire departments start out as all volunteers, which limits costs; when a region becomes populated, the calls for help become so high that an all-volunteer force cannot effectively manage the emergencies. To combat this, fire departments began to hire full time firefighters to staff fire stations. Fire department staffing costs account for nearly 80% of the annual budget.


Beyond the inflationary factors, the most significant cost increases are relative to fire departments hiring staff to combat the increase in 911 calls. Other increased costs are associated with building fire stations and equipping the station and firefighters with the tools necessary to effectively mitigate emergency incidents.


Additionally, the services delivered by the fire department have also expanded drastically since the fire department’s intended formation.

  • Prior to the formation of fire districts, the newspapers were cluttered with stories of large fires that consumed entire towns. Fire was one of the most devastating disasters of the era. In an effort to improve public safety the State legislature provided for the formation of fire districts under title 52 RCW in 1939. This led to the formation of our local fire districts.

    • 1947-Thurston County Fire District 1; Rochester

    • 1957- Thurston County Fire District 11; Littlerock

    • 1964- Thurston County Fire District 14; Grand Mound

    • 2010 – West Thurston Regional Fire Authority approved by voters merging all the fire districts

  • In 1966 the most devastating public safety issue of the time was accidental death, often resulting from motor vehicle crashes. The evolution of fire department emergency medical services evolved from successes on the battlefield. In the Vietnam War Era (1955-1975) the US Army began training “combat medics” to care for the injuries on the battlefield.

  • In 1966, the National Academy of Sciences report titled “Accidental Death and Disability: The Neglected Disease of Modern Society” indicated that, outside of the hospital setting, “…if seriously wounded…chances of survival would be better in the zone of combat than on the average city street.”

  • Fire departments became the obvious choice to help combat the public safety concerns of 1966.

  • In the early 1980s, government agencies, from the federal level all the way down to the municipal level, identified the need for hazardous materials response and mitigation through numerous incidents that involved the spill and/or release of hazardous materials or unknown substances.

  • Today fire departments have evolved to respond to all hazards.

As identified previously, fire departments are not-for-profit, all revenue is used to fund the resources necessary to meet the community’s emergency service needs. Property and business owners are essentially the owners of the fire department. Through their tax dollars they purchase an interest in the fire department resources; the return on investment is life and property saving resources to meet the community’s emergency service needs. Additionally, adequate fire department resources will improve insurance industry ratings and property owners will benefit from lower insurance premiums.

As communities develop the costs of developing and maintaining an effective emergency service force are shared (relative to property value) by all property/business owners with few exceptions.

2001 – I-747 passed in November which restricts taxing districts to a 1% monetary aggregate increase over their prior highest lawful levy. That went in to effective for the 2002 tax year and beyond.


Where can I find more information?


Visit our website at and click on the 2023 Levy tab.


Fire Chief Rob Smith also welcomes your questions at In addition, you may also request a presentation from Chief Smith for your community group by calling (360) 352-1614.

West Thurston Regional Fire Authority is located just south of Olympia, Washington. The 158 square mile response zone stretches approximately 12 miles east and west along Interstate Five from the city limits of Tumwater to the Lewis County Line. The RFA began from the partnership between Thurston County Fire District 1 and Thurston County Fire District 11. West Thurston RFA delivers comprehensive emergency services including Fire Protection, Rescue and Emergency Medical Services and Patient Transport. The Regional Fire Authority serves approximately 30,000 residents in the communities of Bordeaux, Delphi, Gate, Grand Mound, Littlerock, Maytown, Michigan Hill, Rochester, and Scott Lake. The diverse service area includes industrial, commercial, residential, and forest land. The Regional Fire Authority delivers exceptional service with state-of-the art fire, rescue and emergency medical apparatus and equipment through 76 exceptional professionals both career (31) and volunteer (45). Our proud professionals respond to an average of 3,400 emergency 911 service calls each year.


[1] Volunteer. Volunteer Firefighter Opportunities in Washington State Fire Departments. Retrieved 2023 from Volunteer - Washington State Fire Fighters' Association | WSFFA

[2] Breaking Bad Habits: Recruitment and Retention of Volunteer Firefighters. Cagle, Colby. Retrieved 2023 from Breaking Bad Habits: Recruitment and Retention of Volunteer Firefighters (

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