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.
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?
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.