Local News

Tuesday, Sep 18 2012 08:35 AM

Fire 'fee' bills in the mail

Area residents living outside the city limits recently received bills for the new state fire "fee."

This money goes to Cal Fire, not the Kern County Fire Dept. The $150 annual fee was approved last July by state lawmakers at the request of the governor, and will affect anyone with a habitable property in the 31 million acres of State Responsibility Area in California -- more than 825,000 property owners.

Cal Fire officials, like Public Information Officer Julie Hutchinson, say the fee was introduced to balance out the financial burdon to residents.

"Homes in the wild land area of the State Responsibility Area get more of a commensurate benefit from the service of Cal Fire, and are more costly to the citizens of California," Hutchinson said. The fee is being administered by the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, CAL FIRE, and collected by the Board of Equalization.

Local representatives Senator Jean Fuller and Assembly Member Shannon Grove both voted against the fee.

"This 'fee' is really a tax," Fuller said last week. "They couldn't persuade the required two-thirds of the Legislature to vote for a tax increase, so the majority party, using verbal gymnastics to twist and turn a tax increase into law, re-labeled it a 'fee,' requiring only a simple majority vote for passage. This 'fee' was passed to help backfill a budget problem that came about as a result of overspending. There is nothing about this tax that will provide better fire protection or prevention for property owners. It was done simply to balance our state budget, and that is wrong, and in this case, illegal."

Grove agreed.

"My constituents will open up their mailboxes this week and find another burdensome bill to pay, courtesy of the Democrats in Sacramento," she said. "The 'Fire Prevention Fee' was approved last year on a party-line vote with no Republican support and was signed into law by Governor Brown. This new tax is being shouldered on rural homeowners who likely already pay for local fire services, and the funds raised from this won't pay for more firefighters. This is simply a ploy to pump more money into the General Fund so the majority party can pay for their fast-growing government programs. The fire tax is unfair and likely unconstitutional.

"Efforts are underway to challenge the legality of this tax," Grove said. "The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, the advocacy group that sponsored Proposition 13, is filing a lawsuit in coming weeks. Until that is resolved, property owners may protest their payment and let Sacramento know that rural residents will be heard."

While the California State Board of Equalization states that a property owner must pay the bill, George Runner a member of the board said, "I've opposed this new tax from the beginning, because I believe it is unconstitutional. The Governor and Legislature simply called it a "fee" to avoid the two thirds vote requirement designed to protect taxpayers. I intend to join a lawsuit asking the courts to halt this illegal money-grab as soon as possible. Unfortunately, no one can file the lawsuit to stop the tax until after the bills go out."

To qualify for a refund, you must first pay the bill and file a "Petition for Redetermination." You can obtain the petition by calling the Fire Prevention Fee Service Center at 1-888-310-6447 or visiting www.firepreventionfee.org. Make a copy of the check so that you can enclose it with your Petition for Redetermination form as proof of payment. You must submit it within 30 days from the mailing date on the billing notice to: Fire Prevention Petitions, P.O. Box 2254, Suisun City, CA 94585. Once Cal Fire has received your petition, the agency will have 60 days to review the petition and issue a written decision.

Additional protests to the fee can be submitted to: Jerry Brown, Governor, State Capitol, Suite 1173, Sacramento, CA., 95814, Jean Fuller, Senator, 5701 Truxton Avenue, Bakersfield, CA 93309, 661-323-0443 and Shannon L. Grove, Assembly Member, 4900 California Avenue,Suite 100B, Bakersfield, CA., 93309, 661-395-2995. A phone call or a letter will have more meaning than an email, Grove said.

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