California fire tax bills can be disputed, refunded

Aura Whittaker
Staff Writer
9/19/2012
 

  A bill passed along party lines by the Legislature and signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in July 2011, established a new annual fire prevention fee for building owners within CalFire jurisdiction, known as the State Responsibility Area (SRA).

  The State Board of Equalization (BOE) began mailing the bills by county in alphabetical order in August and will continue through December or later. Residents in Plumas and Lassen counties can expect to receive bills shortly after the tentative mail date of Sept. 18.

  Nearly a million Californians are required to pay the annual tax of $150 per habitable structure located on privately owned property. Residents will eventually receive two bills this year — one for the 2011–2012 fiscal year, and one for the 2012-2013 fiscal year.

  The fee for each habitable building is $150; property owners with two habitable structures on their property, will pay $300. Each bill should show a $35 credit if you already pay a special tax or assessment to a local fire protection agency.

  SRA boundaries are those adopted by the Board of Forestry and Fire Protection in January 2011, and updated to reflect automatic changes as of July 1, 2011.

  They are the official boundaries recognized by the Board of Forestry and Fire Protection to define the areas of public and private land designated by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF) as areas where the state (CalFire) claims primary responsibility for the prevention and suppression of wildfires. Boundaries do not include land within city boundaries or under federal jurisdiction.

  If your property is located in an SRA, the new law requires you to pay the bill within 30 days otherwise a 20 percent penalty, plus interest, will be applied. Each 30 days thereafter, an additonal 20 percent, plus interest penalty, accrues.

  Because the fee is basically a lien on the property, failure to pay may eventually lead to foreclosure.

  Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association (HJTA) at firetaxprotest.org, believes the fee is an illegal tax under Proposition 13. The organization is challenging the constitutionality of the new tax in court and, should it prevail, the court may decide to order refunds.

  According to HJTA, to qualify for a refund the bill must be paid bill and a Petition for Redetermination filed with the responsible agencies. For public convenience, the HJTA posted the form on its website with the grounds for challenging the fee already filled in. The second page of the form contains instructions for completing the form.

  HJTA recommends writing “under protest” on the notation line of your check when paying.

  The association also suggests making a copy of the check to enclose with petition as proof of payment.

  Although only one address appears at the bottom of the form, HJTA said state law actually requires submitting the form to three different addresses within 30 days of the date of the bill to the following organizations: (1) Fire Prevention Petitions, P.O. Box 2254, Suisun City, CA 94585; (2) Board of Forestry and Fire Protection, P.O. Box 944246, Sacramento, CA 94244; and (3) Board of Equalization, P.O. Box 942879, Sacramento, CA 94279.

  If a refund is owed, property owners must file a claim with the Board of Equalization for repayment. Either the property owner or CalFire may file the refund claim.

  For more information about the new fire fee, visit firepreventionfee.org. For more information about how to protest the tax, visit firetaxprotest.org.

 


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