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County balks at fire fees

August 16, 2012

Local leaders are protesting a $150 state fee that will be charged to residents to fund fire prevention efforts on state- managed lands, claiming that it is actually a double taxation on residents who are already funding local fire districts. File courtesy U.S. Forest Service

Inyo County is protesting a state move to charge residents $150 a year for fire prevention efforts.
The state announced earlier this month that it will begin billing for a State Responsibility Area Fire Prevention Benefit Fee that was enacted in July 2011.
“Inyo County has a strong and ongoing opposition to these fees,” a press release from the Inyo County Planning Department states.
According to the state, the annual fee is to pay for administration of fire prevention efforts on state-managed lands that are outside of incorporated cities.
The state will be charging the $150 fee, which is not a tax since a tax would require a two-thirds vote from legislators or a vote of the people, for each “inhabitable dwelling.”
Dwellings within local fire districts are eligible for a $35 reduction in the annual fee.
“There is a process for appeal of the fee (known as a “Petition for Redetermination”), which will be detailed and mailed with the bills,” the press release states. Residents planning to appeal the fee must do so within 30 days of receiving the bill. A determination on the appeals must be made by the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection within 60 days of the receipt of the appeal.
In addition to Inyo County, local government agencies, coalitions and state taxpayers associations are protesting the fee, calling it double taxation on citizens who are already paying for services from fire protection districts.
According to the Regional Council of Rural Counties, a coalition that includes Inyo County, “neither the SRA fee nor the billing process for it has the involvement or support of counties, county organizations, or county officials; instead, the State – via CalFIRE and the State Board of Equalization – is enacting and implementing the SRA fee.”
The state has also said the fees will not be specific to the region they are collected in and will be used as needs arise.
Fourth District Supervisor, Board Chair and Big Pine volunteer firefighter Marty Fortney pointed out that, for the first several years of the SRA fee program, the funds will be tied up in administration. Fortney said the state will be collecting taxes for seven to eight years before the fees begin funding on-the-ground fire prevention work.
Several agencies and organizations, including the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer’s Association and San Diego County have already threatened to file lawsuits protesting the fees once bills are mailed later this month.

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