Kindling Outrage: Rural Fire Fee Bills Hit Mailboxes; Fire Officials Upset over BOE Notice
Due to alphabetical ordering, residents in Alameda County will be the first to receive bills for the annual $150 rural fire “fee” that the state first agreed to impose back in 2011. Since a great deal of the people receiving these bills already pay local taxes for fire services, the bills have been called unfair taxation and a legal challenge will likely be filed once residents begin protesting the bills. The error-prone fee has raised objections all across the state, as there are several counties that the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection provides no fire services and the state’s data is from 2011, so many owners may no longer be in possession of property that will be subject to the fee. There are 825,488 structures in 31 million acres of “state responsibility area” that the fee applies to.
Counties in particular have tried to distance themselves from the fee and have been among the most vocal critics. The Chronicle notes that “county assessors across the state question whether the bills for the fee - which are based on the number of "habitable structures" on a property - will be accurate.” Tom Bordonaro Jr., San Luis Obispo County assessor and president of the California Assessors' Association, commented that “This is going to be a nightmare for county assessors and counties as a whole. We're expecting the phones to ring off the hook and, to be honest with you, we're not sure how helpful we're going to be able to be."
Notably, the Board of Equalization is in charge of collecting the fee and one member, George Runner, reportedly urged the board to send out advanced notices to owners about the fee. Runner is a critic of the tax and so far over 20,000 of these advanced notices have gone out, which has angered state fire officials. Revenue from the fee is supposed to only go toward prevention, not suppression, and yet the advanced notices display a firefighter battling flames.
The Press Enterprise notes that “The notices also invite recipients to “protest” their bills, a provision not included in the 2011 budget package that authorized the fee or the subsequent regulations to carry out the controversial charge. […] Cromwell and forestry board members said the advance notices could make recipients mistakenly think that they can easily opt out of the entire fee.” See more here.
To address questions, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has launched a website: www.FirePreventionFee.org