Next round of fire fee bills
The State of California’s Board of Equalization has recently started to send out bills to over 800,000 rural property owners for fiscal year 2012-13, the second year Californians have been required to pay the controversial Fire Prevention Fee.
The levy is being collected on behalf of the state’s fire agency, CalFire. The fee is aimed at rural properties located within State Responsibility Areas (SRA), lands where the state has determined it has financial responsibility for the prevention and suppression of wildfires. SRAs do not include lands within incorporated city limits.
Approximately 26-27,000 properties fall within the SRA in Sonoma County, about 2,000 with Kenwood, Glen Ellen, or Sonoma zip codes.
The annual fire fee charge is $150 per “habitable structure,” buildings that can be used for residential use. Properties located within the boundaries of a local fire agency, such as the Kenwood Fire Protection District and Glen Ellen Fire Protection District, get a $35 reduction. The state’s Board of Equalization estimates that 90 to 95 percent of habitable structures receive a fee reduction.
Like last year, this fiscal year’s billing schedule is being rolled out alphabetically by county, so residents of Sonoma County should expect to receive the tax notice in late October.
The fee, passed by the state legislature in 2011, has been opposed by many local fire district officials who say that the fee is unnecessary because many of the services the fee is earmarked for are already performed by local fire personnel. There is also the fear that requiring property owners to pay the fee will hurt fundraising efforts by local fire districts.
Monies from the fee would go to Cal-Fire for activities such as defensible space inspections, fire break construction, public education programs on fire prevention, and evacuation planning
The levy must be paid within 30 days of receipt of the bill, or property owners could face fines and penalties.
The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association (HJTA) has challenged the constitutionality of the fee, arguing that the fee is really a tax and thus required two-thirds approval by the legislature. The fee passed with just a simple majority.
A recent decision in July by a Sacramento County superior court judge has allowed the lawsuit to go forward as a class action. State attorneys were trying to get the case tossed.
But the judge also ruled that if the taxpayer’s group is eventually successful in its constitutional challenge, the only people able to receive any refunds would be those who filed a timely appeal. Last fiscal year, only a very small percentage of people filed the proper appeal paperwork – HJTA attorneys estimate only 15,000.
Hearings on the constitutionality of the fee will likely not occur until next year.
For more information about the fire fee and the appeal process, go to www.FirePreventionFee.com. For more information about the protests against the fee, go to www.firetaxprotest.org or www.calfirefee.com