CAL-FIRE Tax Couched as a Fee….

We all know that the great State of California has been having money troubles for years. It is struggling to find new ways to raise money, either by spending cuts, or collection of fees, which is just a euphemism for tax. Cuts in spending include cuts to our fire departments throughout the State. This brings me to the topic I wanted to discuss which is the CAL-Fire California Fire Prevention Fee, for which I received a notice in the mail marked urgent. This is what the notice said:

“According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE), you own property in one of the designated areas and must pay the new California Fire Prevention Fee. The Board of Equalization is required by law to collect this fee.

As the owner of property within this area, you will soon receive a bill requiring you to pay up to $150 per habitable structure. After you receive your bill, you will have 30 days from the date of the bill to send a payment or protest the amount of the bill in writing.

If you have any questions about this fee, call 888-310-6447 or visit http://www.firepreventionfee.org.”

This fee is for rural property owners only and is focused on those who have habitable structures on their property. So, I sit here scratching my head as I look to the property next door that has no habitable structure and will not be paying this fee. My husband and I work hard to keep our area clean by following what our fire department tells us we need to do.

We keep the tree branches seven feet up from the ground. We trim back all burnable weed matter, and we have removed some of the native highly flammable plants from around our home. The duff from the dropping leaves and pine needles, including the very flammable pines cones are cleared and kept up with all year long. We also have made sure that there are no trees overhanging the roof of the house. With all of our hard work, we have had the fire district, and CAL-Fire inspect our property to ensure that we are as fire safe as can be. We have passed with flying colors and it was even suggested that others in our community come take a look at our property so that they will see what they need to do to ensure the safety of their land and that of their surrounding neighbors.  Be sure to click on the photos so that you can really see the detail.

Another view – in the background is the neighbors yard

One more view


But then I look next door and see the dead debris of trees and shrubs, and weeds growing from every conceivable corner. The folks that own the property next door have done nothing with their property, including no habitable structure, and if a fire were to sweep through this area their land will add fuel to the fire and not diminish it. So I scratch my head trying to understand why I have to pay this fee when I do all that I can to ensure the safety of my home, and yet the fellow next door who does nothing pays nothing. It doesn’t seem fair does it?

One view of the neighbors yard

Another view of the neighbors yard

One last view of the neighbors yard

So let’s look at the numbers: There are 825,488 property owners receiving the bill for the fee of $150 each. Of this, 95%, according to an August 13th article in the Sacramento Bee, will get a $35 reduction due to having fire service in their area. So, 784,212.6 properties will pay $115. This equals $90,184,449 in revenue for the State. Now take the 5% remaining, 41,275.4 properties, and multiply that by the $150, and you have an additional $6,191,310 in revenue for a combined total revenue to the State in the amount of $96,375,759. How much more could the State take in on this fee if they billed those who have property without habitable structures? Further, why should someone who owns one acre pay the same as someone who owns one hundred acres in these rural zones? Did I mention that failure to pay this fee will result in penalties and interest? Hmmm…more revenue for the State.

Now let me ask you, dear reader, this: Isn’t everyone who owns habitable property in the State under the purview of CAL-Fire? If say the city of San Francisco is not covered by CAL-Fire, then shouldn’t they receive a reduction in what they pay in taxes to the State that goes towards fire protection?

George Runner of the State Board of Equalization stated to the Sacramento Bee, in this same article above, “That the people paying this fee have no direct benefit.” And he goes on further to state, “There are no new services that are going to exist because of this.” Nothing was said about this money creating jobs. Is this just free money to the State?

What really happens to the money then? The State claims that the money will be used for clearing brush and improving the health of the forests so that they can better withstand a wildfire.

Mr. Runner does make an interesting statement, also from the same Sacramento Bee article. He says, “Homeowners aren’t the ones that start the fires. They’re actually the best defense against fires out in (rural) areas and yet we’re holding them responsible,” he said. “This whole thing is no different to me than us deciding that we’re going to do a crime-prevention fee in an area that has high crime.” Mr. Runner indicates one can protest this fee, however Mr. Runner suggests paying the fee than filing an appeal.

I will pay the fee, and I will file an appeal.

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About wrantandwrave

Just a pair of folks who have something to say...
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21 Responses to CAL-FIRE Tax Couched as a Fee….

  1. I agree with all points brought up in the wrant!

  2. In our rural area, the property owners have always generously supported our fire department with a tax assessment for our fire district that is generally higher than most other similar districts. Now the state has cut funding to rural fire districts, but not that of other districts. This is totally discriminatory.

    Now we have this new Cal-Fire “fee,” which is totally discriminatory also. I plan to do the same as you: pay the fee and appeal. I hope we are joined by a throng of others.

  3. PJ says:

    Some things become apparent as to how our governments (State, Feds, Local) operate –
    1) No new taxes, they’ll just “fee” one to death.
    2) Government wants to stimulate their economy, not the citizens’ econonmy.

    In this situation they clearly want their $96M but truthfully where will that money go? I know for a fact that the State Fire agency, Cal-Fire, has never done any type of clearing and land maintenance where I live. How do I know this? Well simply put -1) in all the years of living where I do I have yet to see them here; 2)as my property boarders the Eldorado National Forest I know that the State of California relies on the Federal Government to take care of Federal Lands, so no State involvement to clear and maintain.

    I will give this to the State – they will assist with fires in these areas, but they are NOT the first responders. And as the article pointed out – I spend plenty of time, effort, sweat and money to care for my property and keep it as fire safe as can be, so the State is penalizing me for doing that and the guy that owns the lot next to mine, who does not live here and does NOTHING to fire safe his property pays ZERO – thank you State of California for again instilling confidence to your citizens

  4. babso2you says:

    Reblogged this on Life in the Foothills and commented:
    We have been billed for this tax and are planning to appeal. There is quite an uproar about this here in the Sierra Foothills!

  5. ponyboy says:

    I don’t get it. Cal Fire never responds to a fire in our area, we have a local department and already pay a property assessment to furnish them with up to date equipment, pay and facilities. We are outside the city limits but it is the same chief that makes sure the city and county areas are being taken care of. So we get to pay twice for the same service that Cal Fire does not furnish.

  6. Have you seen the fire fighting bills for the fires that we regularly have here in California? Any money that was in the fire fighting reserves was pretty much eaten up by the October 2003 and October 2007 wildfires, and those were just in Southern California!

    This post reminds me of the people over in the East a couple of years ago. I think it was Tennessee. They rural area they are in passed a fire fighting fee. The citizenry didn’t like it, so they put it on the ballot and voted it down. Ultimately, the fee was passed again but allowed people to opt out. One couple did, going something like four years without paying the fee. When their house caught on fire, the fire fighters had no choice but to respond, but on their way to the property, they were notified that the property on fire had opted out of fire fighting. So when the fire fighters got there, they simply watched the house burn down.

    The couple sued but lost because they had been notified of the fee, what the fee covered (fire fighting in rural areas), that they could opt out, what might happen if they opted out (their property might burn to the ground).

    After the court case was resolved, everyone signed up for fire fighting.

    We live in a civilized society. That means some are rich, some are poor. Some are healthy, some not so much. Some have mansions, some are homeless. Some take care of their rural properties, some don’t. If society doesn’t take care of all of its citizens, and that might require sacrifice by some, then it’s not very civilized.

    I’m reminded of Mr. Spock in “Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan”: “The good of society outweighs the needs or wants of the few.”

    I don’t have rural properties anymore because I got tired of them burning down in wildfires. I lost a summer home in the Yellowstone fires of 1988 and two homes here in San Diego in the October 2003 and October 2007 fires. I’m now definitely a city boy. One of the reasons why I was always a country boy is because school taxes in the country were always much lower, even nonexistent in some states, and since I don’t have children, why pay school taxes if I could find a way not to. Now I pay school taxes, and they are not cheap! Just part of living in society.

    • Thank you for the comment Russel. If you read the language for the CAL-Fire fees, none of the money benefits any of us. It actually goes into the “General Fund” for the State. Also, why does an owner with a house have to pay and the one next door and not maintained not have to pay? Their property will cause the fire to spread, not mine, yet I pay and they don’t? Why does the money go into the general fund? Why does it not support the local fire department? I pay for school taxes too and I have no children. But why isn’t everyone in this great State paying for this instead of a select few? Do you think that is fair?

      • I do think it’s fair. It’s similar to those driving a car paying the 50¢ per gallon gas taxes.

        Your local fire department will apply for reimbursement for fire fighting fees as necessary since the money goes to the general fund. That allows for everyone in the rural areas to help absorb the cost for fighting fires regardless of where they are in the state.

        What might be less fair is that only rural areas are subject to the fee, and as we saw here in San Diego during the October 2003 and October 2007 fires, those fires don’t know that they are supposed to stay in the rural areas. They burned their way through many subdivisions of expensive homes here.

        I’m for fire fighting fees to be paid for by all property owners. It’s just like an insurance pool. The more people you have in the pool, the lower the cost is for everyone. I’m willing to join the pool even though I don’t own rural properties anymore.

        I do spend a significant amount of my time helping rescue people, plants, and pets (and other wildlife) during natural disasters. When I lived in Texas, it was during hurricanes and floods. Here it’s during earthquakes and wildlfires. I value my time at $100 per hour since that’s what I could make by working in my chosen profession instead of volunteering, so I do pay my fair share during fires, just in a different way.

      • ponyboy says:

        Once again, why do I get to pay twice because I own a parcel of land. I pay the local fire department a property assessment fee (even if there is no structure on it) to respond if there is a fire or a need of first aid. Now I get to pay the state a property assessment fee for fire services that they don’t provide. I have lived in the same home for 25 years and not once in 25 years has Cal Fire responded to an incident in our neighborhood.

  7. You neglected in your post to state that this fee only applies to those living in State Responsibility Areas, which are “area[s] of the state where the State of California is financially responsible for the prevention and suppression of wildfires. SRA does not include lands within city boundaries or in federal ownership.”

  8. Also, the fee applies to habitable structures only, not barns, sheds, etc., because it’s those habitable structures that Cal-Fire and the CDF will fight to save. They won’t fight to save your neighbor’s land that has no habitable structures on it. That will burn.

    • Country Boy says:

      That’s great I am glad that the state can just pick and choose what land burns and what doesn’t. We all need to forget about who has to pay and who doesn’t none of us should have to pay this “TAX” because we already pay in our taxes every year for the RFD to Help protect our property even If there is not a structure on it. We need to appeal this “TAX” and take this fight to the voter boxes. We wantthe govt in sacramento to remember that they work for us not the opposite.

      • If it came down to my scrubby land burning and my neighbor’s house burning, I’d much prefer my scrubby land burning. If you don’t want thte government to choose, then you’ll probably need to pay even more than the $150 per habitable structure. There’s a reason they put “habitable” in there.

        Obviously the RFD taxes is not covering everything. I think that should be pretty obvious. As people continue to move into the rural areas, they require more and more services but so many are unwilling to pay for those services. They don’t just happen!

      • 1tumblingtumbleweed says:

        What if it’s the scrubby land that caused or started a fire that spread to my home. It seems very discriminatory that I have to pay for something caused by the scrubby land while they do not have to pay!

        Rural folks already pay for fire protection. If the state needs more money for fire protection, it should be on the shoulders of everyone in the state. It’s only democratic!

  9. Estelle Beer says:

    I don’t understand why the tax payor is obligated to pay for the over spending done by our legislators .Every time one form of government or another is strapped for cash they stick it to the property owners .Heck, who needs to discover gold when they have a never ending source ….the homeowner.I think we could do without state government for a year or two; it was done in the past.

  10. you are wrong about your next door neighbor, i have three parcels i ran through sub division in fresno county in the 70’s, then since one later is in the willainson act the state melted all three together and rezoned, now i get a bill for 450.00, only one house, and an old mobile home, the CDF in my area is anti resident and tries to stop all new development, i had more trouble with them than anything else when i built, my contractor, a big one in the area, almost gave up dealing with them, but the man i used for the cat work knew them and some how got it approved. did you know that all houses must submit a landscaping plan, preferablly done by a liecensed professional and up dated every year? down with CDF!!!!!!

    • CDF is the CA Department of Forestry for those who do not know this. You were taxed $450. TAX. We were handed a bill for a fee. Why am I wrong about the neighbor? Any fire in the area will consume his property jumping it to my home. I understand your rant. Understand this one. This is discrimination.

  11. Michael Robert Brown says:

    Hi just wanted to say that I like your article very much. Please keep up the good posts Thanks a ton! and Have a good day

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