The much-hated rural fire fee is back in the news, as a new draft was recently released with several new provisions. The state Board of Forestry and Fire Protection will hold a hearing on January 11th to determine if the latest incarnation will move forward. As a refresher, property owners who fall under State Responsibility Areas (SRA) will have to dole out $150 annually and additional stipulations are sure to enrage critics. For instance, the fee will be $300 if a parcel of land has two single-family homes on it and duplexes will also be subject to the $150 fee. The governor also rejected a smaller fee that was proposed, which would have been $90 due to a series of credits.
There were also previously concerns that jails or hospitals would be charged extra due to ambiguously worded provisions, but new changes state that these types of buildings will be charged the same $150 fee.
Despite strong objections from local government leaders, the administration is sticking to its guns, with Brown commenting that “To me it’s just simple. People need to share the burden of the benefits they receive. That’s the principle.” However, CSAC has called the fee "double-taxation without any additional benefit" for communities that already support local fire stations. The Half Moon Bay reports on how rural residents regard the fee due to concerns about double taxation:
“The city of La Honda stays relatively moist even during the hot summer months and hasn't experienced a major forest fire in over 50 years. Nonetheless, local homeowners agree to pay 1 percent of their property taxes to support the La Honda Fire Brigade, a volunteer fire department that derives most of its annual budget from donations and fundraising. The same goes for Kings Mountain, where residents for decades have held a successful annual art fair to raise money for the local fire station. [A resident] points out a $150 state surcharge would be more than double what he annually pays through taxes and donations for local fire protection.”
Reportedly the fees could take full effect by April. Expect legal challenges, as has been the case with many aspects of the state budget. Taxpayers may be less-than-pleased to hear that of the millions collected, over $3 million will go to the State Board of Equalization as a fee for doing the billing. We relayed previously that while the California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection originally revised the fee structure so that rural residents could only be charged a maximum of $90, new appointees to the Board allowed the ultimate fee amount to go higher, as the board was restocked with Brown appointees. The governor took issue with the lowered fee back in August because the Administration and legislators are relying on the revenue for the patched up state budget.
A fact sheet on Cal Fire’s coverage across the state can be seen here.