County seeks to be exempt from fire fee
Plumas County property owners should be on the lookout for their $150 fire bills.
While efforts are under way to overturn the fee, bill recipients should pay the tab now and hope for recompense later.
That’s the advice that local and state officials are sharing with their constituents because failure to pay the fee could result in hefty fines and interest.
But not all residents will be receiving the payment notice. Those who live in the city of Portola as well as pockets of other communities will not be billed.
For example, parts of Quincy and East Quincy are considered part of a “local response area.” Those areas are in the jurisdiction of the Quincy Fire Department, but not all properties in the fire department jurisdiction are exempt. There are areas where residents on one side of the street will receive the fire bill, and those on the opposite side will not.
“This is going to present a lot of confusion,” said Jerry Sipe, the county’s environmental health director, who has been working with the supervisors on the issue.
There are also portions of the Sierra Valley, roughly from Beckwourth to Vinton, that are exempt. But again, the residents who live on the valley floor are exempt, while their neighbors who live on the hillsides are not.
Chester proper is exempt, but other areas such as the Lake Almanor Country Club and Bailey Creek, are not.
According to CalFire, there are 10,991 fee payers in Plumas County; 1,551 in Sierra; and 5,580 in Lassen.
The Board of Supervisors sent a letter to George Gentry, head of the Board of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) protesting the fee and making specific requests. The letter was also sent to Gov. Jerry Brown, Sen. Ted Gaines and George Runner, the area’s representative to the Board of Equalization.
The board should find a receptive ear in Runner. His website, calfirefee.com, is dedicated to opposing the fee.
On his home page, Runner writes, “I’ve opposed this new tax from the beginning, because I believe it is unconstitutional. The Governor and Legislature simply called it a ‘fee’ to avoid the two-thirds vote requirement designed to protect taxpayers. That’s why the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, with my full support, has filed a lawsuit in Superior Court aimed at halting this illegal money-grab.”
Local attorney Robert Zernich asked the supervisors during a recent board meeting if they planned to join the lawsuit.
County Counsel Craig Settlemire said he would not advise the board to join the lawsuit until the language is read.
The 14-page class action suit, on behalf of 825,000 state property owners, was filed against both the California Department of Forestry and the state Board of Equalization on Oct. 3 in the state’s Superior Court.
The document listed several individual plaintiffs, from Arthur Van Rhyn, who owns beachfront property in San Luis Obispo County, to Calvin Harwood, who owns a single-family home in Mendocino County, which is less than a half-mile from 194,000 acres of commercial timber. The timber owner will not receive a bill because there is not a habitable structure on the land.
Closer to home, Thomas Spanton, whose family trust owns land in Lassen County, is named as a plaintiff.
The suit asks that the fee be deemed invalid and that those who paid the fee be reimbursed.
The Plumas supervisors would also like to see the demise of the fee, but short of that offered two alternatives in their letter to CalFire — an exemption because of the lack of CalFire presence in the county or the return of collected fees to the local fire districts and fire safe councils in the county.
“On behalf of the citizens, property owners and taxpayers of Plumas County, the Plumas Board of Supervisors strongly opposes this illegal tax for a number of reasons, in addition to the Constitutional grounds stated above,” the letter reads. “For starters CalFire has only a minimal fire prevention presence in Plumas County.”
The letter goes on to say that the county has its own long and successful history of fire prevention activities.
The Plumas County letter of protest is included on George Runner’s home page.
More information on the fire fee can be obtained by going to Runner’s website at calfirefee.com or CalFire’s official website at firepreventionfee.org or by calling 888-310-6447.