By Miriam Raftery
August 23, 2011 (San Diego’s East County) – Rural homeowners will pay a fire parcel fee of $90 at most, and in many cases considerably less. Statewide, the total annual fire parcel fee will average just $30 under emergency regulations approved yesterday by the California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection.
That’s substantially less than the $150 per parcel allowed under the state budget signed into law that was estimated to raise $50 million in fire parcel fees, raising new questions of how to stem the budget gap.
Fire parcel fees will be assessed on an estimated 850,000 rural residents who live in the “state responsibility area” (SRA). Those in areas designated as “extreme” fire zones would pay $90, while those living elsewhere within the SRA would pay $70, the Sacramento Bee reports. However, the regulation also includes $65 in credits that will reduce fees further, including $45 for those who already pay for fire prevention programs through local fire district fees and local taxes. This would benefit most if not all rural property owners in East County, since County taxes are used to fund 24/7 Cal Fire services and some homeowners also pay rural fire district fees.
Cal-Fire estimates the fees will generate $25.5 million—and that’s before taking off $10-12 million in new administrative costs. So the net gain would be only around $13.5-$15.5 million, far short of the $50 million that budget backers predicted would be raised. Costs could rise further if the department is ased to conduct numerous inspections if homeowners appeal, in order to determine whether owners qualify for defensible space credits or are situated in the proper fire risk zone.
The County of San Diego had threatened to sue the state over the fire parcel fee, which some describe as double taxation.
Meanwhile, Cal Fire officials in San Diego have cautioned that this year’s fire season may be worse than in recent years due to heavy winter rains that have led to extensive growth of grasses and brush, providing abundant fuel for wildfires as vegetation dries out in late summer and fall. Yet recent state budget cuts have reduced Cal-Fire manpower from four men per fire engine to three, among other cutbacks.
Governor Jerry Brown and legislative leaders are reportedly working on a revised fire parcel tax that would utilize some of the revenues raised for firefighting, a move that may be more palatable to those assessed. But the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association has vowed to file suit against any fire parcel tax plan, claiming it is actually a “tax” that requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.