Fire mitigation fee rates unchanged

The fire mitigation fee rates paid by developers to fund the cost of fire department facilities serving the new development will not change for fiscal year 2017-18.

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 May 2 to maintain the fees at their 2016-17 rates. The fee for non-agricultural construction will remain at 56 cents per square foot, the fee for agricultural buildings without sprinklers will remain at 15 cents per square foot, the fee for agricultural buildings with fire sprinkler systems remains at two cents per square foot, and the fee for poultry and greenhouse buildings is still one cent per square foot.

The supervisors also accepted the Fire Mitigation Fee Review Committee’s annual report and found that the 22 participating fire agencies were in conformance with the County Fire Mitigation Fee Ordinance for fiscal year 2015-16.

“There really isn’t a fire season any more; wildfires are a threat all year long,” said Supervisor Bill Horn. “That’s why it’s so important to keep our fire mitigation fee program well-funded and to maintain the fee structure through the next fiscal year.”

The county established the Fire Mitigation Fee Program in 1986 to provide funding for fire protection and emergency medical services in the unincorporated communities. Although local fire agencies lack the legal authority to impose mitigation fees on new development, the county collects a fee from building permit applicants on behalf of 19 independent fire protection districts and three county service areas with fire protection responsibility.
The mitigation fees are distributed quarterly to agency accounts and must be used for capital projects or to purchase firefighting equipment or supplies which will serve new developments.

The Fire Mitigation Fee Review Committee reviews the annual reports of the participating agencies to confirm that the improvements are necessary to serve new development. The committee currently consists of two fire chiefs (Bill Paskle of the Alpine Fire Protection District and Tony Michel of the Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District), one elected director of a fire protection district (Ken Munson of the North County Fire Protection District), one County Service Area staff member (Theresa Vargas), one San Diego County Fire Authority staff member (Susan Quasarano), and one representative apiece from the Building Industry Association (Matt Adams), the San Diego County Farm Bureau (executive director Eric Larson), and the county’s Planning Commission (Bonsall resident David Pallinger).

The County Fire Mitigation Fee Ordinance allows fee ceilings to be increased or decreased in proportion to changes in the Cost of Construction Index. The ordinance also requires an evaluation of the base fee every five years based upon dividing the average cost in current dollars to construct a fully-equipped fire station within the county’s unincorporated area by the average square footage of structures served by that average fire station. That result becomes the new base fee and was last adjusted in 2014.

A 8.19 percent increase in the Cost of Construction Index between October 2014 and October 2015 led to fee increases last year from 52 cents per square foot for non-agricultural construction and 14 cents per square foot for agricultural buildings without sprinklers. This year the change in the Cost of Construction Index was small enough that no changes in the fees were warranted.

The North County Fire Protection District received $179,132.17 of
ire Mitigation Fee Program revenue in fiscal year 2015-16. The San Diego County Regional Fire Authority, which includes the area served by the DeLuz volunteer fire department, had $43,169.91 of mitigation fund revenue while the Vista Fire Protection District, which covers part of Bonsall as well as unincorporated Vista, collected $26,181.40.

Because the funding is used for capital improvements, it is not required to be spent in a particular fiscal year and funding can be used for debt service payback.

The fiscal year 2016-17 planned capital expenditures approved by the Fire Mitigation Fee Review Committee include construction of a new Vista Fire Protection District fire station for which Fire Mitigation Fee Program revenue will be allowed for 53 percent of the estimated $5 million total cost, the remodel of the North County Fire Protection District’s Station 6 in Rainbow for which 75 percent of the cost can be covered by developer fees, and debt service payback for the new NCFPD Station 5 in Bonsall.

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