Supervisors fight $150 state fire tax

Two bills recently introduced in the state legislature would provide relief from the fire tax imposed on property owners in state responsibility areas, and on Feb. 25 the San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to endorse both of them.

The supervisors directed the county’s chief administrative officer to draft a letter expressing the supervisors’ support for Assembly Bill 1519 and Senate Bill 832 and also directed the chief administrative officer to add to the county’s legislative program support for legislation which repeals, reduces, or exempts all or specific properties and areas from payment of the State Responsibility Area Fire Prevention Benefit Fee.

“I think this action today would send a message to Sacramento,” said Supervisor Dianne Jacob.

“Supervisor Jacob and I feel strongly that the SRA fee is illegal taxation, with no increase in fire protection or fire safety,” said Supervisor Bill Horn. “In addition to legislation that repeals the fee, which the Board was already on record supporting, the county will now support any state legislation that repeals, reduces, or exempts people or geographical areas from having to pay the tax.”

In 2011, the California state legislature made property with habitable structures and in a firefighting state responsibility area subject to the $150 annual State Responsibility Area Fire Prevention Benefit Fee, although the legislature and Governor Brown left implementation of the fee to the Board of Forestry.

The assessment affects 56 of California’s 58 counties; Sutter County is mostly irrigated agriculture and has no California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection responsibility area while San Francisco County consists entirely of the City of San Francisco and is covered by its city fire department.

CalFire’s primary responsibility is wildland fire prevention and suppression, which the state legislature noted in its decision to include areas within local fire districts. Owners of structures which are within the boundaries of a local fire protection agency receive a $35 reduction but must pay the remainder of the tax along with the taxes or benefit fees they pay to the local fire agency. “It punishes homeowners who are already doing their part to pay for services in our fire-prone backcountry,” Jacob said.

The current law imposes a civil penalty for each 30-day period during which the assessment remains unpaid. AB 1519 was introduced by Tim Donnelly, a Republican whose district office is in Hesperia, and would eliminate the penalty for unpaid fees. The assessment is currently being challenged in court by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, which is arguing that the fee is actually a tax which requires voter approval. AB 1519 has been assigned to the Assembly’s Natural Resources Committee.

Ted Gaines, a Republican with district offices in Redding and El Dorado Hills, introduced SB 832. Initially SB 832 exempted the owner of a structure which has been destroyed or significantly damaged by a natural disaster. On Feb. 14, the bill was amended by the Senate’s Natural Resources and Wildlife Committee; the language related to the fire fee was eliminated completely and the bill now would transfer the Kings Beach state park to the North Tahoe Public Utility District.

The Board of Supervisors previously included repeal of the fire tax in its legislative program but had not previously authorized support for legislation which reduces the tax or exempts all or specific populations or areas.

Approximately 74,000 properties in San Diego County are within the state responsibility area.

“I just want to get rid of this tax,” Horn said.

11 Responses to "Supervisors fight $150 state fire tax"

  1. DJ   March 7, 2014 at 3:31 pm

    Now this is something I can get behind. The whole fee/tax was always a bit shady. If I recall correctly when they approved it, it was for the previous years worth of fire protection. Imagine if in your 2014 property tax bill you were stuck with a $150 fee for the 2013 year. If you don’t pay it will be enforced/collected by the CA BOE. As such let’s not call it a fee when it’s clearly a tax.

    Why when I have a local fire station all of 500 feet from my house am I only granted a $35 discount? How were the firemen paid before this fee/tax. I mean clearly the $ we already provide the state and local gov’ts were enough to take care of it. All this tax was meant to do was to generate more income for the state. They didn’t even have the balls to put it to a public vote, they just approved it retroactively. Talk about some shady politicking if frankly not a clear violation of state law.

    I believe whoever is the home owner as of the beginning of the year is responsible for paying for it so what happens if you sell your house and move. Are you expected to contact the BOE and ask for your bill? They send these bills out late and I don’t particularly feel like forwarding my mail for a year.

    I wonder when the word "Taxifornia" is going to catch on…

  2. BonsallGayGuy   March 7, 2014 at 4:59 pm

    One of my pet peeves with this tax (or fee if you will) is with the narrow timeframe between when the bills are received by the homeowner and the time which payment is due. It almost seems as if by design that the limited response period guarantees an assessment of the late penalty fee and interest charges.

  3. Pink   March 8, 2014 at 12:17 pm

    Amen to that BGG!! I waited until I moved all of my property tax monies from savings to checking to pay my "fee" and ended up with a bill for $30 more as a late payment penalty!!

  4. ERIN   March 8, 2014 at 5:34 pm

    Cal-Fire, Go figure.

  5. Lee   March 9, 2014 at 2:40 pm

    If I approach you and tell you to give me $10, and indeed TAKE those $10, then that is (A) extortion, (B) theft, and (C) I go to jail. How the you-know-what can our politicians simply vote for this tax WITHOUT THE PEOPLE’S consent?!

    How?! Can somebody PLEASE explain this to me?

    EVERY single politician who voted for this tax in 2011 should be brought to justice. Absolutely. How are they NOT criminals? Somebody waves their magic wand . . . and you and I MUST pay $150? Are you kidding me?

    Folks, I don’t know what our government is, but I do know this ain’t democracy!


    PS. You mean to tell me that Bill Horn has actually done something right . . . or at least appears to be so? Has Christmas come early this year?

  6. Joe Naiman   March 9, 2014 at 9:34 pm

    Lee – as I mentioned in my article, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association is arguing that the mandatory nature of the assessment makes it a tax which is subject to a popular vote. Ultimately the courts will decide whether this is a fee or a tax, but if the lawsuit is successful the assessment will be overturned and could only be reinstated by a popular vote. I tried to be brief in my reference to the lawsuit, but hopefully this explains that situation better.

  7. Lee   March 10, 2014 at 7:57 am

    @ Joe #6

    Psst, and if this tax had been put up for a vote for THE PEOPLE in the first place, you know, TRUE democracy, none of what you have mentioned would be necessary. Just a thought.

  8. Pink   March 10, 2014 at 9:37 am

    @Lee: Governor Brown and his little minions tried to put one over on the taxpayers in order to generate more money for the state, because California is BROKE!

    The "people" said NO WAY! Now it will go to court, hopefully get overturned, and, "we, the people" will get our money back. That is how a democracy works Lee.

  9. Me   March 10, 2014 at 2:25 pm

    Wow….I agree with Pink, Lee, BGG…all at one time…..and Horn too?


  10. Pink   March 10, 2014 at 6:03 pm

    @Me: The Ides of March…..(-:

  11. Lee   March 11, 2014 at 11:21 am

    @ #9 Me

    Thank you.


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