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Bills for contested ‘fire fee’ hitting mailboxes statewide

July 17, 2013

CalFire is sending out its second round of bills for the State Responsibility Fire Fee. Residents who own property within CalFire’s jurisdiction, the SRA, can expect to receive a $150 bill for each inhabitable structure they own in an SRA to help fund fire prevention and suppression efforts. Photo by Darcy Ellis

A second round of controversial statewide fire fee bills are being sent out, and local property owners residing outside of local fire districts can expect to get their bills soon.
The new bills are set to go out beginning the week of July 15. The bills went out to home owners of record on July 1, for homes in state fire responsibility areas (any area outside of a municipal fire district) where CalFire is responsible for fire suppression.
Bills will be mailed alphabetically by county, beginning with Alameda County. Property owners are required to pay $150 for each “habitable dwelling” they own within the SRA.
 In accordance with Assembly Bill X1 29, the fee is intended to provide a stable source of funding for fire prevention activities such as strategic fuel reduction activities, defensible space inspections, fire prevention engineering, emergency evacuation planning, fire prevention education, fire hazard severity mapping, implementation of state and local Fire Plans and fire-related law enforcement activities such as arson investigation.  The Governor’s 2013-14 budget contains new funding for enhanced land use planning, expanded vegetation management activities and additional defensible space inspectors.
The first billing for the fee was sent out to residents last August, and several local residents and the Inyo County Board of Supervisors have gone on record saying the fee is a double taxation for homeowners who are already supporting CalFire’s fire suppression efforts through their annual income taxes.
Between August and December last year, the state mailed more than 760,000 bills for fiscal year 2011-12.
In March, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association formally served the California State Board of Equalization, CalFire and the Department of Justice with a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state’s SRA fees.
There has been no resolution to that appeal, and the Taxpayers Association urges residents to continue paying the fee as bills come in to avoid interest or late fees.
Residents who believe they do not owe the fee may submit an appeal to CalFire (known as a petition for redetermination) after they receive the bill from Board of Equalization.
The appeal must be submitted within 30 days from the date printed on the bill.
The appeal (Fire Prevention Fee Petition for Redetermination) must be in writing and describe why the fee may not apply. The form and mailing instructions can be found at the Fire Prevention Fee Website http://www.boe.ca.gov/sptaxprog/fire_prev_fee.htm.
“CalFire will review and make a decision on the appeal within 60 days from the time they receive the appeal,” the website states. However, “the filing of an appeal does not prevent accrual of interest. You are advised to pay the fees while CalFire considers your appeal. Paying the fee does not, in any way, affect consideration of your appeal.”

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