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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

AB 1506 would repeal controversial state fire fee #Cafire

 Donnelly co-authors bill to repeal ‘illegal tax' on rural residents
Natasha Lindstrom, Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO • Two Assemblymen have introduced a bill that would repeal the new state fire fee on rural residents slammed by critics as an "illegal tax."

Republican lawmakers and local government officials have been blasting AB x1 29, a bill signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in July that will charge a $150 parcel fee to owners of inhabitable structures on wildlands in State Responsibility Areas. It’s set to affect an estimated 800,000 property owners statewide and 66,000 in San Bernardino County, including residents in Phelan, Pinon Hills, Wrightwood, Oak Hills, Lucerne Valley and parts of Apple Valley. It may charge 2,200 property owners in the Apple Valley area alone, according to local fire officials.

The fee was promoted as a way to ensure rural residents are paying their share of wildfire prevention costs amid rising costs and Cal Fire budget shortfalls.

Critics, however, say the fee is as an unconstitutional tax that should have required a two-thirds vote for approval. They also argue the fee unfairly charges rural residents twice for fire protection because many already support local districts, such as those paying into the Apple Valley Fire Protection District.

Assembly Bill 1506, introduced by assemblymen Kevin Jeffries, R-Lake Elsinore and Paul Cook, R-Yucca Valley, would repeal the fee altogether. Assemblymen Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, and Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, have signed on as co-authors of the bill.

“In San Bernardino County, the citizens of our unincorporated communities and many cities already contract with Cal Fire,” Donnelly said in a Monday statement. “In the middle of an economic depression, Sacramento politicians saw fit to illegally impose another burden on struggling taxpayers — a burden that would do nothing to increase protection. I am happy to be in the fight to stop it.”

In August, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution calling on the state to rescind the fee, with county buildings also subject to the charges. Third District Supervisor Neil Derry said though he’d support the proposed AB 1506, he doesn’t believe it’ll make it through the state Legislature.

“I think it will die in its first committee,” Derry said. “I think the effort’s going to have to be at the in the courts ... The county is committed to litigating this matter.”

Derry is working with the Howard Jarvis and Inland Empire taxpayer associations to prepare to challenge the fire fee bills, which he’s heard could be arriving as early as June. Another concern is that residents could be charged twice this summer — two $150 bills for two fiscal years.

Knight said he’s optimistic that the repeal bill stands a chance, but he’ll also stand behind legal efforts to challenge what he called a “clear-cut tax” that “wasn’t written in a proper fashion.”

The California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection has made some revisions to the fee guidelines since the original bill’s approval, including charging based on parcel numbers and offering a $35 discount for structures in local fire districts.
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    ****REMINDER**** Every fire has the ability to be catastrophic. The wildland fire management environment has profoundly changed. Growing numbers of communities, across the nation, are experiencing longer fire seasons; more frequent, bigger, and more severe, fires are a real threat. Be careful with all campfires and equipment.
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