Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the issue for Mill Creek residents and businesses?
How you pay for emergency services is changing. Currently, the City of Mill Creek contracts with Snohomish Regional Fire & Rescue (SRFR) for fire and emergency medical service (EMS). Property owners pay for this through a general property tax levy paid to the City. They also pay a levy to the City for emergency medical service (EMS). The contract expires at the end of 2022, and SRFR is unable to renew it without a substantial cost increase.

What has the City done in response?
The City researched starting its own fire department, which was the most expensive option. It reached out to other providers for a new contract and determined that significant cost increases would be necessary to maintain the quality and level of emergency services community members receive. Higher contract costs would reduce the City’s ability to fund other services (such as police, roads and parks) without collecting additional revenue from taxpayers. That’s why the City is asking voters to consider annexing to South Snohomish County Fire & Rescue Regional Fire Authority (South County Fire).

What does annexation to South County Fire mean?
Annexation means that property owners would pay South County Fire directly for fire and EMS starting in 2023. It eliminates the City as the intermediary.

Why did the City pick South County Fire?
City officials researched all possible options and concluded that South County Fire is the lowest cost provider for the same quality and level of service.

What happens to the Mill Creek Fire Station?
A condition of the Regional Fire Authority is that annexing cities contribute emergency apparatus and stations to the agency. The City has no apparatus, but the station would become the asset of South County Fire. It would continue to be staffed 24 hours a day with the same number of firefighters, paramedics, and apparatus to respond to emergencies.

How will this impact service when I call 911?
The quality and level of emergency services our community receives will continue uninterrupted. South County Fire already responds to calls in the City as the nearest responder through a mutual aid agreement. You’ve probably met some of their firefighters if you have ever called 911. 

Will firefighters lose their jobs?
No, all emergency personnel have a place with SRFR or South County Fire. This is important to maintain service levels for our community.

Where is South County Fire located?
South County Fire is headquartered south of Everett and serves unincorporated southwest Snohomish County in areas directly north and west of Mill Creek, and the city of Lynnwood. The agency also provides contract fire and EMS services for the cities of Mountlake Terrace, Brier and Edmonds. 

When is the election? 
Annexation will be on the April 26, 2022 Special Election ballot.

What happens if annexation is not approved?
If annexation is not approved by voters, the City will have to cut services significantly or find new revenues to pay for contract fire/EMS services. Revenue options include asking voters to increase the EMS levy and the City’s general property tax levy, and having the City Council pass a new utility tax.

How will the City reduce cost impacts of annexation to its property owners?
The City will remove $4.3 million in taxes paid to the City for the current fire/EMS contract. This includes reducing its general property tax levy in 2023 by $2.6 million, and removing the City EMS levy of $1.7 million. 

How does South County Fire fund emergency services? 
In 2022, South County Fire funds emergency services with a fire levy of $0.93 per $1,000, an EMS levy of $0.42 per $1,000, and a fire benefit charge equivalent to $0.16 per $1,000. The combined total is an estimated $1.51 per $1,000 of assessed property value in 2022.

What is the total amount I would pay for fire/EMS?
In 2022, the average Mill Creek property owner would pay South County Fire $882.73 for a 24-hour fire and EMS response. This is based on a 2,000 square foot home with an assessed value of $602,000, which is considered the average for our community. Please note that the assessed value of your home is lower than its market value. The net result is that the average homeowner would pay an additional $379.26 a year ($31.61 a month) for emergency services if annexation were in place in 2022.  This is based on the 2022 combined tax rate for South County Fire of $1.35/$1,000 assessed value, plus a $70.03 fire benefit charge.  

What are we paying compared to other property owners? What would we pay if annexation is approved?
Mill Creek property owners currently pay the City $0.88 per $1,000 of assessed property value for the fire/EMS contract. This 88-cents includes $0.51 per $1,000 from the City’s general property tax levy, and a City EMS levy of $0.37 per $1,000. As noted, SRFR can no longer offer service to the City at this rate, and has requested substantially higher contract fees to cover its current costs. Many Snohomish County fire agencies with the same level and quality of service charge property owners close to $2 per $1,000.  South County Fire is the lowest cost provider at an equivalent rate of $1.51 per $1,000 in 2022. 

Would you “dollar and cents” it for me?
If annexation is approved by voters:
•       The City Council will reduce its 2023 general property tax levy by the full amount dedicated to its fire contract - $0.51/$1,000 of assessed property value.
•       The City will eliminate its EMS levy - $0.37/$1,000 of assessed value.
•       The net result is that taxes would increase by an estimated $0.63/$1,000 of assessed property value for the average homeowner 
o      $1.51 - $0.51 - $0.37 = $0.63/$1,000)
•       This is projected to be an increase of $379.26 a year ($31.61 a month) for the owner of an average Mill Creek 2,000 square foot home with an assessed value of $602,000. 

What is a fire benefit charge?
A fire benefit charge moves away from the traditional assessed value/property tax funding model. It funds emergency services based on a property’s size and risk of fire instead. It takes into consideration that large and high-fire risk structures should pay more for service than smaller ones (such as single-family homes) because it costs more to serve them.

How does it work?
The fire benefit charge requires voter approval every six years. Under a fire benefit charge, the maximum fire levy is reduced from $1.50 to $1 per $1,000 of assessed property value. The fire benefit charge is then set by your elected Board of Fire Commissioners in a public hearing every year during the fall budget process to take effect the following year. In 2022, a 2,000 square foot home will pay a benefit charge of $70.03 annually. Examples of the fee for other sized homes: 

Size of home 2022 Benefit Charge (South County Fire)  
1500 Sq. Ft. $60.94
2000 Sq. Ft. $70.03
2500 Sq. Ft. $78.67
3000 Sq. Ft. $86.18

Property owners also have the right to appeal their fire benefit charge, and any discounts for seniors or low-income households still apply. Additional information on South County Fire's benefit charge can be found at, including a video  and the fee formula. To request an estimate for your property, please email your address or parcel number to [email protected].

Why have other communities supported a fire benefit charge?
Traditional funding models for emergency services are based only on a property’s assessed value. That means two properties of the same type and size could be charged differently. However, the cost to defend them in a fire is likely the same. A fire benefit charge is based on a property’s size and risk of fire, which many people feel is a fairer way to charge for emergency services.

What communities/fire service providers in our area have a fire benefit charge?
•            King County Fire District 36 (Woodinville) 
•            Puget Sound Regional Fire Authority (Covington, Kent, Maple Valley & SeaTac)
•            Valley Regional Fire Authority (Algona, Auburn, Pacific) 
•            North Highline Fire District (south of Seattle city limits)
•            Northshore Fire Department (Kenmore and Lake Forest Park)
•            Snoqualmie Pass Fire & Rescue
•            Renton Regional Fire Authority
•            Shoreline Fire Department
•            Central Pierce Fire & Rescue
•            King County Fire District 10 (Carnation, May Valley, Tiger Mountain, Preston) 
•            South County Fire (Lynnwood)

I read that my taxes for fire and EMS will increase 72% under annexation. Is this true?
The City’s current rate for fire/EMS cannot be renewed with any provider for anywhere near the rate Mill Creek property owners are currently paying. The rate we had at $0.88 per $1,000 was well below what most Snohomish County property owners pay, which is around $1.50 to $2 per $1,000 for the same quality and level of service. If annexation were in effect today, South County Fire would be the lowest cost provider for Mill Creek property owners. 

Would annexing to our current fire/EMS provider be less expensive?
No, it would cost more. The combined levy rate for service in 2022 from the current service provider is $1.85 per $1,000 of assessed property value. This would have cost a 2,000 sq. ft. home with an assessed value of $602,000 (considered an average for the City) $1,113.70 per year. Annexing to South County Fire for 2022 would have been $882.73. The City has considered all possibilities, and concluded that annexing to South County Fire is the lowest cost option for the same level and quality of service for Mill Creek property owners. 

Doesn’t state law limit local governments, including cities and fire agencies, to an annual property tax increase of 1% unless the voters approve?
Yes, state law limits any local government to a 1% property tax increase per year without voter approval.

Is South County Fire asking voters for a bond for capital needs?
No. Most local governments, which includes fire agencies and cities, have a plan to identify the facilities, apparatus and equipment that are needed over time to better serve the public. Like other fire agencies, South County Fire has one, too, but there are no plans to ask voters for a bond at this time. 

Will South County Fire ask voters to approve a bond in the future?
Nothing is currently planned.  At some point, every fire/EMS agency will have capital needs for fire stations, emergency apparatus, and equipment. One of the annexation benefits for Mill Creek property owners is that South County Fire has a large, relatively high value tax base. Mill Creek property owners will benefit from being able to share costs with more property owners who also are part of South County Fire. 

How much could South County Fire have lowered its fire levy rate if annexation was in place today?
If Mill Creek was part of South County Fire in 2022, the effect of adding those properties could have reduced the overall fire levy rate by an estimated $0.06 per $1,000.  Annexing Mill Creek properties to South County Fire spreads overhead costs like administration, firefighter training, and support functions over more people, which reduces costs for everyone.

Is South County Fire running a deficit?
No, South County Fire is financially solid. It operates under a balanced budget, and has passed all its independent audits by the state. The agency actively seeks grants to make local tax dollars stretch further, and partners with other agencies on training, programs and services to save taxpayers money.  The agency has a cash carry over balance of $31.8 million for 2022, which is more than it needs by law.