Residents, lawmakers vocally oppose fire fee

August 10, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
It's looking like some Californians will soon be getting a bigger bill for fire protection services.

Despite questions over its legality, the California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection is moving full steam ahead to write regulations surrounding the state's new controversial fire fee.

The fee would be as much as $150 a year, affecting yellow zones on the state's fire map where 850,000 mostly-rural residents live and are covered by CalFire for protection. That would mean $50 million for the state budget in the first year and $200 million a year thereafter.

"Whatever you come up with as a fee must mean defensible in terms of services rendered," said George Gentry with the California Board of Forestry.

Board members have their hands full trying to please several opponents. The law went into efect June 30 when the state budget was signed, but have until September 1 to get the regulations ready for implementation.

Some residents already pay a fire fee and see this as a double-taxation and a money grab, which retirees say they can't afford.

"As soon as I read there was a fee, that kind of upset me," said resident John Shay.

Leaders from rural communities think the new fire fee will undermine efforts to raise taxes locally for things the state won't pay for.

"That's going to make them less interested in voting on an increase in assessment or paying more for their local fire departments," said Cyndi Hillery with the Regional Council of Rural Counties.

State Senator Ted Gaines, who is in the process of collecting signatures for a referendum to overturn the fire fee, wants the process to slow down.

"It's an illegal tax," Gaines, who represents Roseville, said. "I think there's going to be litigation in addition to my referendum. I can't understand why they'd be moving so rapidly to implement regulations for the tax."

The regulations are expected to be released next week, spelling out which areas have to pay and the dollar amount. The board has been warned that thousands of residents plan to appeal.


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