Rural area firefighting fee comes due again

Critics say $150 billis unapproved tax

July 16, 2013 

The state is launching the second year of a program that helps pay for wildfire protection via a fee of up to $150 on many rural homes.

The fees are charged on habitable structures in areas where the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has primary responsibility for firefighting.

They include the hills on the east and west sides of Stanislaus, Merced and San Joaquin counties, as well as the western parts of Calaveras, Tuolumne and Mariposa counties.

The charge is reduced to $115 if the property is within the boundaries of a local fire agency.

The fees, created by a 2011 law, are meant to offset the growing cost of firefighting. The $84 million expected to be raised each year will go to reduction of flammable vegetation, public education and other fire-prevention measures.

Supporters say property owners should pay more of the cost of fire protection if they choose to live in vulnerable areas.

Critics, led by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, contend that the fees are a tax and should have had at least two-thirds approval by the Legislature or voters.

The fees are collected by the state Board of Equalization. Board member George Runner, whose district includes Stanislaus and 33 other counties, disagrees with the fees and has pointed constituents to the appeal process.

"I am disappointed that the governor and Legislature failed to repeal this unfair and unconstitutional tax during the recent budget negotiations," Runner said in a news release. "Their failure to take action means that rural taxpayers will be forced to pay this regressive tax yet again."

The bills will go to the owners of record as of July 1, 2012. They have 30 days to pay.

The bills will be mailed alphabetically by county, starting this month with Alameda. A full schedule was not available.

Homeowners can check if they are subject to the fees at www.firepreventionfee.org. Information about the fees also is at (888) 310-6447.

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