As you may know, last year the California State Legislature approved an annual fire prevention “fee” to help backfill CalFire’s budget. The California Department of Forestry started sending the bills to rural homeowners in early September. The bills for the $150 fee for FY 2011-12 are being sent alphabetically by county and homeowners in San Bernardino County are expected to receive their bills in mid-October.
After going through many different adaptations, the bill is now set at $150 per habitable structure for residents living in a State Responsibility Area with a $35 deduction if you reside in a local Fire Protection District (County Fire). Once you receive your bill, you will have 30 days from the mailing date to pay it or send a detailed protest in writing. If you pay your bill late you will be charged an additional 20 percent, plus interest, for each 30-day period and failure to pay could result in a lien being placed on your property.
I have been quite vocal about my opposition to this fire “fee” because I wholeheartedly believe it is an illegally approved tax that violates taxpayers’ constitutional rights. This fire prevention measure was passed as a “fee” and not a tax in a thinly veiled attempt to sidestep state law that requires all new taxes to be approved by a super-majority (two-thirds) in the State Legislature.
A fee is defined as such because it provides a particular service solely to those who pay it (such as the fee you may pay for parking or the fees levied for water services) whereas a tax is a revenue-generating device that benefits the general public. This fee will provide no new services whatsoever as CalFire is already responsible for providing fire prevention services and many residents already pay for additional fire prevention services at the local level, amounting to double-taxation. Moreover, any benefits from the fee would not be exclusive to those who are obligated to pay it because everyone would benefit if the fee somehow resulted in a reduction of wildfires.
Furthermore, none of the roughly $80 million the bill is expected to generate will be used to actually fight fires, essentially charging homeowners $150 annually to be just as safe as they were before.
One of government’s most important responsibilities is protecting its residents from fire, either through prevention and/or protection. Although proponents of this “fee” argue that it is only fair for rural homeowners to pay their fair share for fire services, what we have here is, ultimately, a money grab to finance the out-of-control spending by Sacramento legislators.
While my opposition is unwavering, I strongly encourage everyone to pay their bills to avoid the hefty penalties then, contact my office or the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association to join a class action lawsuit. The contact information for my office and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association is as follows:
Supervisor Neil Derry
385 N. Arrowhead Ave, Fifth Floor
San Bernardino, CA 92415-0110
Phone: (909) 387-4855
Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association
621 South Westmoreland Avenue, Suite 202
Los Angeles, CA 90005
Phone: (213) 384-9656
For more information about protesting the fire “fee,” please visit http://firetaxprotest.org/