By Miriam Raftery
November 12, 2011 (Sacramento)—The California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection has approved a $150 fire parcel fee on rural property owners. Those living in a fire district will receive a $35 discount, dropping the fee to $115. The state estimates that 90 percent of structures will quality for the savings.
That’s significantly more than rates originally approved by the Board in August, though less than the $175 that the Governor originally requested.
Governor Jerry Brown exercised gubernatorial muscle to push through the higher fees as a means of closing the state’s growing budget gap. After the board approved far lower fees than the Governor sought, he tried to persuade the Legislature to pass an even heftier $175 fee. But Democrats in rural areas joined Republicans in opposing that plan. So Brown replaced four members of the fire board to win approval for the $150 fees.
The fee will apply to an estimated 800,000 structures statewide, including homes and offices in state responsibility areas for fire protection. That includes unincorporated areas in East County.
The fees have been opposed by many rural residents, who say that they are not responsible for causing wildfires and are already paying for brush clearing and other fire prevention measures as well as higher insurance rates in fire-prone areas. Supervisor Dianne Jacob also opposes state fire parcel fees. Some fire districts also oppose them, fearing state fees would dissuade voters from approving local fire parcel taxes to fund individual districts.
The Governor has said the measure is necessary to adequately fund firefighting. This year, 72 Cal-Fire firefighter positions in San Diego have been cut. So the measure arguably could improve public safety and prevent more devastating wildfires.
The Board has not yet announced when it will begin collecting the new fees, though at latest fees must be collected before the fiscal year ends in June.
A group of fiscal conservatives have said they will challenge the fire fee in court as a tax which should have required a two-thirds votes of the Legislature, according to a McClatchy newspapers article on November 9 in the Bellingham Herald. Democrats have contended the tax is a fee, which requires only a simple majority vote.