By now most homeowners living outside local city limits have received this year's new $115 California Fire Prevention Service Fee bill. The billing was sent out over the last couple of weeks and was issued by the State Board of Equalization on behalf of Cal Fire.
Though it is called a fee, it is nothing more that another tax applied to only about 825,000 property owners or 2 percent of the population of California.
there is greater fire danger. This law was passed as an emergency measure so it could become effective for the 2011-12 tax year. It provides immediate revenue to the state before we see any benefits.
Of course you would expect the immediate benefit to be greater fire protection for those being taxed, but that is not so. These taxes will go fund environmental concerns like erosion control, grants for educating the public on fire dangers, and other fire preventative concerns in hazard areas, but not for fighting fires.
It is understandable for a fee or tax -- whatever it’s considered – to be imposed if the condition of a property is a fire hazard, but that is not so with this law. An owner can consciously clear brush and landscape with fire-resistant plants, but the fee is still assessed. Under our Riverside County ordinances, the county’s weed abatement program clears hazards and bills the property owner, so we have two laws doing the same thing. Also, you can live within eyesight of a fire station – and get far better response times than some city dwellers -- but the fee is still assessed.
What has happened since the fee was signed into law in July 2011? Lawsuits have been filed like the one by the Humboldt County Fire Chief’s Association, which contends the fee is a duplication of taxes already assessed. Or another lawsuit filed by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association that argues the tax is in violation of the Jarvis Tax Act. The lawsuits will progress at a snail’s pace and, because the law only effects 2 percent of California’s total population, there’s little outcry.
Perhaps for those who are faced with the bill, an easy revolt could be to just vote against Gov. Brown’s plea to voters for another tax increase under Proposition 30. Another avenue could be to file a Petition for Redetermination because you’re already being taxed for fire protection. Such a petition form can be obtained at http://www.firepreventionfee.org and only costs the price of postage.
This is not something where we should say, “What the heck, it’s only $150.” The law allows the amount to be increased annually, so look out if you do nothing. --Raymond Schmidt