Guest View: How we can take on the rural fire fee
Months after the second round of the new fire fee bills are being mailed to rural residents, the opposition from rural communities continues to grow.
The fee is a result of budget bill Assembly Bill 29X, approved by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2011. This legislation was passed into law with little opportunity for public input, and was vehemently opposed by counties, fire districts, and associations representing firefighters. The first round of bills were mailed to rural homeowners in 2012, following a costly and inefficient implementation period, where the state spent an estimated $15 million in up-front costs to launch the program.
The fee is assessed to rural homeowners in what the state calls the State Responsibility Area, which is mainly small rural communities throughout California. These same residents already pay for fire protection from their local fire departments, but this fee is an effort to back fill budget cuts to CalFire. Residents do not feel that they are getting an increase in service for their fee and many already have aggressive local fire protection programs in place. Homeowners also feel the fee does not reflect the level of risk. It takes a lot more money and resources to protect the outskirts of a city like San Diego from a wildfire than it does the majority of those who live in the communities that are paying the fee.
The Rural County Representatives of California continues to fight the fee "RCRC remains opposed to this fee. It is bad public policy, and unfair to rural homeowners," said Kevin Cann, RCRC Board Chair and Mariposa County Supervisor. "We will continue our efforts to repeal this fee, and relieve rural homeowners of this duplicative tax."
"RCRC has ongoing concerns with several aspects of the fee. First, according to CAL FIRE's own data, their most expensive activities are for fire suppression in highly urbanized areas, not rural areas. Second, most landowners in the SRA have already agreed to a fire protection and prevention tax at the local level, making the SRA fee duplicative. Finally, SRA fees weaken the state's mutual aid system, and by taking a greater role, place the state in a position of long-term liability over local firefighting and prevention efforts, leaving them vulnerable to legitimate litigation claims."
Colusa County is assisting residents with the information that they need to protest the fee by including the form in their tax bills, Homeowners can protest the fee if they so choose. The letter stated "Colusa County along with many other rural counties in the state opposed this fee adamantly. However, it was ultimately enacted."
The California State Association of Counties opposes the fee calling it, "double taxation without an additional benefit."
The fee for property owners is $150 annually and can be reduced to $115 if the structure is within the boundaries of a local fire protection agency. The protest form for can be found at www.firepreventionfee.org.
– Ashley Indrieri is the executive director of Family Water Alliance.