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November 14, 2012
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Nevada County Board of Supervisors oppose fire fee

The Nevada County Board of Supervisors expressed “strong opposition” Tuesday to the State Responsibility Area Fee imposed earlier this year by the state of California.

Many Nevada County residents began receiving the $150 bill (in some cases $115) in mid-October.

The fee was enacted by the California Legislature as a method of forcing those who benefit directly from coverage by the California Department of Forestry and Fire to pay for those benefits and services.

Opponents of the fee have two principal points of contention: the first being that the fee is actually a tax and as such should have required a two-thirds vote of the California Legislature rather than the simple majority vote it received in 2011 and the second being that it is a form of double taxation as property taxes already go toward funding Cal Fire.

The Nevada County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a letter crafted by Supervisor Hank Weston that stated the county’s opposition to the fee.

“We believe it is really a tax that was adopted in violation of the California Constitution,” Weston’s draft letter states.

The letter further chastises the state for its lack of accountability, saying residents were forced to pay their bills within 30 days of receipt, but if a refund is owed there are no time restrictions.

A $35 deduction is available to residents who live in an unincorporated area that is covered by a fire protection district, but Weston’s letter takes issue with the arithmetic leading to the amount.

“The fee exemption of $35 for properties within the boundaries of a local fire agency is arbitrary and inequitable,” Weston wrote. “It is based on a statewide mathematical average and the state’s current fiscal year budget and not on individual circumstances.”

Finally, the letter claims the fee will not be used for its professed purposes, but is instead a method “merely to prop up Cal Fire’s budget.”

Supervisor Terry Lamphier said during the meeting that the board should also incorporate language into the letter that advocates for low-income residents. He said one of his constituents, a disabled elderly individual,
is forced to pay the fee despite not being able to dictate what prevention measures can occur on the property at which she lives.

Weston and Supervisor Ed Scofield shared similar stories.

“Some of the people that live in these mobile home parks are very low income,” Scofield said.

“I just don’t know how they are going to come up with this money.”

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association in conjunction with numerous plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in Sacramento Superior Court in early October.

Later, El Dorado County joined the class-action lawsuit.

Supervisor Nate Beason said if Cal Fire is successful in the lawsuit it’s a possibility that the state would “increase the fee and broaden the application.”

Cal Fire has long maintained it needs the revenue collected from the fee to be able to conduct fire fighting operations in wilderness areas of the state.

“The fee provides a much-needed and stable funding source to prevent these devastating wildfires, especially like those we’ve seen this year,” said Daniel Berlant, Cal Fire spokesman. “Preventing fires saves lives and homes, and we know that this funding is essential.”

Berlant added that the fee is to maintain current service levels, not to add additional personnel or programs.

In 2012, Cal Fire has spent $148 million on large, out-of-control wildfires. That exceeds the $93 million allotted for such fires in the state budget, and the balance will come out of the state’s budget reserve.

To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email or call (530) 477-4239.

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The Union Updated Nov 14, 2012 06:04AM Published Nov 16, 2012 07:51AM Copyright 2012 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.