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State attempting double taxation?

August 13, 2012

State officials are implementing a new $150 annual fee on property owners to pay for fire prevention efforts on state-managed lands. Local officials are protesting the fee, claiming it is double taxation, as residents within fire districts are already paying for fire protection through property taxes. Photo by Stan Conger

Local leaders are protesting what they are calling double taxation of citizens as state legislators implement an annual fee on homeowners to help pay for fire prevention efforts on state-managed lands.
Last week, Governor Jerry Brown approved a controversial bill that will allow Calfire to collect a $150 fee from homeowners in state fire responsibility areas.
Bishop Fire Chief Ray Seguine said most of Inyo and Mono counties are considered State Responsibility Areas, and will be subject to the tax. The only areas that are not SRAs are incorporated cities and towns.
As defined by the state, an SRA is “state and privately-owned forest, watershed and rangeland for which the primary financial responsibility of preventing and suppressing wildland fires rests with the state.”
Residents living in SRAs will see an invoice in either late August or September for the 2011-12 fiscal year, followed by an invoice in September or November for fiscal year 2012-13.
Residents living within a fire district will be eligible for a $35 reduction, as they are already being taxed for fire prevention and suppression.
“Residents are already paying a fee to their fire districts, so basically they’re going to be double taxed,” Inyo County Fourth District Supervisor and Board Chair Marty Fortney said.
“Fire districts in the county have supported a bill to repeal the SRA fees,” Seguine said. “Both died in the legislature.”
Inyo County has also opposed the fee, and appointed First District Supervisor Linda Arcularius to a sub-committee of the Regional Council of Rural Counties to track the bill.
“This is going to cost our residents quite a bit,” Fortney said. “And it has no value. It’s only going to pay for the bureaucracy it creates.”
The fee is to be used on administration, inspections, fire hazard mapping and fire prevention.
According to Fortney, the first seven or eight years of revenue resulting from the fee will be poured into administration, and it will take at least that long for the state to begin using the money on actual fire prevention projects.
Part of the money will also go to grants for hazardous fuel reduction and community fire plans, so it is possible for local fire departments and fire districts to see a return on the fee.
The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association has opposed the charge, claiming that it is actually a tax, which requires a two-thirds vote of the legislature or approval from voters.
The Taxpayers Association has said that it intends to file a lawsuit against the state upon mailing of the first SRA fee bill to a property owner.
Fortney said San Diego County has also threatened to file a lawsuit when the first billings go out.

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