Property owners have expressed frustration at a town hall meeting over a state annual fee for rural protection.
Assemblyman Kevin Jeffries (R-Lake Elsinore) hosted last night’s town hall meeting in an effort to hear from his constituents their thoughts and concerns. Representatives from Cal Fire and the Board of Equalization sat on the panel to assist the public with their questions.
Property owners in rural areas of Riverside County will soon begin receiving bills for the new rural fire protection fee.
On July 7, 2011, Bill XI 29 was signed into law creating the Fire Prevention Fee. The bill requires the State Board of Forestry and Fire Protection (BOF) to create emergency regulation to implement the fee for residents with habitable structures within the State Responsibility Area (SRA).
The fee is set at $150,with a $35 credit for all habitable structures within a local fire protection agency.
Annual billing for the fees will be set up similar to the California vehicle registration fees cycle, which is based on a fiscal year (July 1 through June 30).
The monies collected will raise an estimated $89 million annually from 800,000 property owners.
Jeffries told the public yesterday he was against the fee and called it illegal.
“I don’t think it is constitutional,” said Jeffries. “This bill didn’t go to a committee there was no public review. It came straight from a backroom deal.”
Jeffries said the fee is a tax of inconvenience and unfairly singles out groups and he believes the cost of fire protection should be spread across the board for everyone.
“This fee is opening a can of worms that shouldn’t be opened,” said Jeffries. The assemblyman expressed his concerns that California could start adding fees for multiple subgroups that are within the state like coastal areas that use beaches and the Bay area with prisons.
“Don’t punish people that don’t live within the city limits,” said Jeffries.
Canyon Lake resident John Guzman said, “This sets such a bad precedent. Fire is fire. We (should) share equally and not single out a group of people.”
Warner Springs resident Peter Spencer said he doesn’t mind paying the $150 fee, but questioned how the state will determine a building is habitable. “I have 13 acres. Am I going to pay a fee for every building with a roof on my property?” he said.
Jeffries, who has been leading the fight in the state against the fees, said he thinks it’s a double-taxation on residents who already pay property taxes to the county and will do little to make anyone safer. He pointed out that not a single new firefighter will be added, nor will a single new fire truck, bulldozer, or helicopter be purchased from the fees collected.
Residents were advised at the meeting that they could protest if they are against the fees and file a petition.
“Even if you are against the fees, if you choose to not pay it while it’s being petitioned, (it) is like picking a fight with the IRS,” said Jeffries.
Lynn Bartolo from the Board of Equalization told the audience that if the bill is overturned the monies collected would be returned.
Michelle Mears-Gerst is a local writer and regular contributor to SWRNN.