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By Miriam Raftery

July 23, 2013 (San Diego’s East County) – A lawsuit challenging fire parcel fees was heard Friday in Sacramento Superior Court.  The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association sued the State of California, arguing that fire parcel fees assessed on taxpayers in state responsibility areas should be considered taxes, not fees.

A two-thirds majority vote of the State Legislature is required to pass a new tax, though this requirement does not apply to fees.

The State had argued that the Jarvis group did not have standing to represent taxpayers in the class action lawsuit, but the judge disagreed, ruling that the Jarvis organization does have legal standing. The state has 10 days to file a response to the ruling.

The judge has not yet ruled on the merits of the case itself.

The fire parcel tax has sparked controversy in East County, where some residents and Supervisor Dianne Jacob have argued that rural residents are already paying fees for protection in rural districts and that the fire parcel fee amounts to double taxation.  Opponents have also argued that fire protection costs should be spread among all taxpayers and that rural residents are already paying more in higher fire insurance and brush-clearing costs.

The state has contended that the fire parcel fee is necessary to cover state firefighting costs in an era of budget shortfalls and an increasing number of larger, more severe wildfires.

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