Rural Fire Fee Remains a Thorn in the Side of Vocal Critics: County Leaders and Homeowners

This winter California experienced low levels of rainfall, which has fire authorities concerned about dry vegetation and destructive blazes that could burn hundreds of acres this summer. We’ve relayed previously that about 800,000 homeowners will have to pay extra for such fire protection thanks to a rural fire fee pushed by Governor Brown. The new $150 annual fee has drawn fierce opposition from homeowners and county officials throughout rural parts of the state. While there are some discounts offered for residents who live in State Responsibility Areas (SRA) if they already pay to support local fire stations, critics argue that the fee still amounts to double-taxation because there is little additional benefit for communities that are paying for fire protection from their local fire district. There is also concern that the state has failed to keep in mind that there are different risk levels in rural areas.

The Bee reports that “Nevada County Supervisor Hank Weston called the $150 charge ‘a farce to fill a budget gap created by the state.’ Weston stated, ‘There is not an increased service level. (State officials) are going to take the money and hire more people to collect the fee. I live in a fire district with a strong fire protection program. We have requirements to provide a lot of clearing. I now have to pay for (Cal Fire). For what? That's not the way it (should) be.’”

However, the state contends that the cost of fighting wildfires has increased and that more people simply live in rural parts of the state. The fee is expected to generate $85 million annually for the state and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection starting in fiscal 2012-13.

The Regional Council of Rural Counties, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, and CSAC have all been fiercely opposed to the fire fee. Furthermore, CSAC is supporting a bill, AB 1506, that would repeal the fee, and another piece of legislation, AB 2474, would create some exemptions for homeowners who already pay for local protection.

Reportedly many communities may try to avoid the fee by trying to classify themselves as outside the state jurisdiction area.

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