Most rural fire departments in Plumas County – essentially all comprised of volunteers – already face a daunting challenge: Balancing adequate fire protection services against the increasing financial costs to provide that service.
Assembly Bill 29x, also known as the “rural fire tax” will negatively affect the county’s fire districts by forcing many homeowners to pay up to an additional $150 annually to CalFire for “fire prevention.”
The homeowners affected live in State Responsibility Areas (SRA). SRAs consist of lands on which Department of Forestry & Fire Protection (CalFire) is responsible for fire protection. CalFire is not mandated to put out structure fires. CalFire’s job is to protect SRA land.
In Plumas County, it’s actually the U.S. Forest Service, not CalFire, which protects the SRA wildlands. Through an arrangement of efficiency between the state and federal government, CalFire has traded fire protection responsibilities to the Forest Service. In exchange, CalFire has assumed fire protection responsibilities in other areas.
A rural fire tax is wrong on many levels.
First, it is essentially a double tax. Many county residents who will be required to pay the “fee” already pay their local fire districts for protection. That payment is mostly in the form of a previously-approved tax assesment. The extra $150 to the state is also money that might have gone to local fire departments in the form of donations.
Rural counties are again a scapegoat for the state’s budget problems. In the name of realignment, struggling rural counties are being forced bare an even bigger financial burden. This move is similar to the state forcing counties bare the expense of housing state prison inmates in county jails. The rural fire tax will not result in any additional services. It is nothing more than a blatant money grab by the state.
But this money grab might not work. In fact, it might be illegal. Our state assemblyman Dan Logue said AB 29x is going to be challenged in court.
“Proposition 26 requires a two-thirds majority vote (by the Legislature) in order to pass or increase a fee,” Logue said. “So they did this without a two-thirds vote. We are going to have to fix this in court.”
It only makes sense that property owners who are already paying for fire protection services through their local fire districts should be exempt from this new fee.
Governor Jerry Brown insists the state’s costs for wildland fire prevention services should be funded by the landowners in these areas. Maybe so. But if that is his argument, why is the fee being levied on people who own homes? Homes which aren’t protected by CalFire.
Plumas County Supervisor Terry Swofford called the fee “crazy. Since CalFire and the Forest Service do not protect structures, I don’t see how they can charge per structure when they only do wildland protection.”
AB 29x is nothing more than a slight-of-hand attempt by the state to pass the financial burden of fire-prevention services on to the individual homeowners in struggling rural counties.
We can’t afford it.