Funding of Services
How is EPFR’s Fire and Emergency Services Funded?
As a separate local government, East Pierce Fire & Rescue relies on voter-approved property taxes to fund our people, services, and facilities. We receive no funding from other governments, including the cities within our service area, Pierce County, or Washington State.
How does it all work? There are two basic parts to our budget:
- Day-to-day operating expenses (firefighter salaries, equipment, fuel, utilities, administrative support)
- The cost of building and maintaining our fire stations
Each part of the budget relies on different funding sources. Both pieces are necessary to support your fire protection and life safety services!
Over 80 percent of our day-to-day operating expenses are funded by two voter-approved property tax levies:
▶ Fire Levy: The maximum rate allowed by state law is $1.50 per $1,000 AV (assessed value). When property values go up, the fire levy must go down because state law mandates that agencies like East Pierce cannot capture more than a 1% increase in property tax growth year over year unless voters approve a higher collection rate. The current fire levy is $1.09 per $1,000 AV. Voters approved an increase in this levy in 2017.
▶ Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Levy: The maximum rate allowed by law is $0.50 per $1,000 AV and is currently at $0.24 per $1,000 AV. Money from this levy must be used for emergency medical services costs (medics, aid cars, etc.). This levy was last renewed by voters in 2021 for ten years.
▶ The balance of our operating expenses is paid for by fees for service (such as ambulance transport fees) and grants. For example, in 2022, the district secured a $5.3 million federal Staffing for Adequate and Emergency Response (SAFER) Grant that pays the salaries for 12 firefighters for three years—covering the cost of the additional firefighters we hired to staff the new Tehaleh fire station. When that grant funding is spent in 2025, we will need to find other funds to replace it.
A third voter-approved property tax levy – our Bond Levy – funds our fire stations, which levied a rate of 18 cents per $1,000 AV in 2023. Money from this levy is dedicated solely to repaying the $80 million in bonds issued since 2018 to replace our aging fire engines and fire stations and build a new fire station in Tehaleh, a fast-growing part of our service area. The Tehaleh station will open later in 2024.
We operate out of six fire stations—Bonney Lake, Edgewood, Foothills, Prairie Ridge, Sumner, and Lake Tapps. The oldest of these stations was built 75 years ago when Harry S. Truman was President. To continue to serve our growing population and maintain current service levels, we needed funding to address renovation and major repair needs and provide space for more fire trucks and firefighters. Therefore, in November 2018, we asked, and our voters approved (thank you!), an $80 million capital bond levy to support replacing four stations and building one new station. Bonds are like a mortgage you would have for your home but for a local government. We borrow the money upfront and repay it over time using the Bond Levy revenues we collect each year. We issued a first series of bonds in 2018, $40 million, and have been using the money to replace the Edgewood and Bonney Lake fire stations and our front-line fire engines and ladder truck.
Striving to utilize your tax dollars as efficiently as possible, we held off on issuing the remaining $40 million in bonds until last year, when interest rates were lower. We are using the proceeds of this second set of bonds to pay for Lake Tapps, Tehaleh, and Prairie Ridge fire stations. Waiting to issue the second set of bonds saved an estimated $14 million in interest expense.
Together, the Fire Levy, EMS Levy, and Bond Levy are the three-legged stool to our financial health. And it all depends on you, the voters. Without your approval at the ballot, we would not have the funds to pay for our firefighters, fire vehicles, medic units, and the stations to house them. Thank you!