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State fire board lowers proposed fire fee

Dan McDonald
Staff Writer
8/31/2011

The state’s proposed $150 fee for fire prevention, which has many Plumas County residents burning mad, just got smaller.

On Monday, Aug. 22, the California Board of Forestry approved a maximum $90 fee on rural homeowners.

The annual fee will likely be less than $90 for many residents. There were $65 worth of exemptions added to the plan, which could drop the yearly fee to $25 or less.

“That’s where it stands as of now,” CalFire spokesman Daniel Berlant said. “The governor is still requesting feedback that could change the bill completely.”

Gov. Jerry Brown signed assembly Bill 29 in July as part of the Democratic budget plan.

The bill, which was designed to generate $50 million in revenue for the state, imposed a fire-prevention fee on homeowners who live in state responsibility areas (SRAs).

The bill angered state residents who live in sparsely populated rural counties. Many of those homeowners already pay for fire protection through a local fire district.

In essence, they would be paying twice for the same service.

Roughly a quarter of Plumas County homeowners live in state responsibility areas. There are about 850,000 homes in SRAs statewide.

The emergency regulation passed by the state fire board actually has two fee classifications.

The full $90 fire prevention fee would apply to homeowners in extreme fire zones. People who live in the rest of the SRA would pay $70.

Homeowners’ bills would be reduced by $45 if they already pay a fire district for protection.

Homeowners could deduct $10 if their home has a certified “defensible space” cleared around the structure.

And homeowners who live in a county that has a fire-safety component included in its general plan could deduct an additional $10.

Plumas County’s general plan will include a fire-safety component when it is updated. Planning Director Randy Wilson said the updated plan is scheduled to be finalized in April.

A homeowner eligible for all three exemptions, who does not live in an extreme fire zone, would pay a total annual fee of $15.

The exemptions drastically reduced the $50 million revenue target for the state.

According to the Sacramento Bee, a state fire board official estimated the current regulation would generate about $30 on average for each of the 850,000 homes in the state responsibility area.

The projected revenue generated by the fee would be about $25.5 million.

The governor could still amend the language in the bill.

State Assemblyman Dan Logue has maintained people shouldn’t have to pay at all because the bill is illegal.

“It’s an illegal fee. I can guarantee you this is going to court,” Logue said. “(The bill) requires a two-thirds majority (in the Legislature) to pass and that hasn’t happened.

“This is what California is good at: raising taxes. But enough is enough.”

Logue said he scheduled a meeting with Brown to discuss the issue.

The date the fire fee would show up on a homeowner’s property tax statement is up to the State Board of Equalization.

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