Not one dime of ‘fire fee’ went to 7,055-acre fire
By Ron Peterka
The state has begun mailing out the 2013 “fire fee” bills, and we can expect to see them in a few weeks. It may take awhile for pending legal arguments against the fee to be completed, and we can only hope the fee will be repealed and $77 million already collected will be returned.
In the meantime Supervisor Dianne Jacob points out that “not one dime of that fee went to help Cal Fire fight” the recent Chariot Fire that burned 7,055 acres. Although the fee cannot be used for any equipment or personnel by law, Cal Fire cannot — or will not — provide more than a general list of “fuel reduction activities, defensible space inspections, fire hazard severity mapping, implementation of state and local fire plans, and fire-related law enforcement activities such as arson investigation.”
With the typical lax state auditing, Cal Fire will not likely ever be asked to provide a detailed record for the use of fire fee funds to the public.
So far it appears Cal Fire is the sole beneficiary of the fire fee, and volunteer fire departments, such as our local Intermountain Fire, will receive no funding from the fee. The fee severely affects the fundraising abilities of the volunteer departments that rely heavily on community donations for operations and who participate in fighting the major brush fires under mutual aid agreements.
The fire fee regulation appears to require State Legislature approval of each fire prevention project prior to payment, which appears to severely limit general access to the funds which then keeps the funds in the State Treasury to balance the recent “budget” passed by Gov. Brown.
Some 98 percent of homeowners, according to Cal Fire, are protected by local fire protection districts or local fire departments and qualify for a $35 reduction, but not total exemption, of the fire fee. In 2012 Cal Fire received 90,100 petitions to be declared exempt, of which only 17 percent were approved.
With about 66,000 bills in San Diego County at $115 each, do you think there is any chance of $7.59 million being used for “fire prevention” effectively?
Fire protection and the other emergency services typically provided by fire departments are increasingly critical in the San Diego backcountry, but it should be voted on by the residents who are most affected and not imposed by state legislators with a demonstrated desire to spend any money they can get control of or borrow. In San Diego County, $7.59 million would go a long way toward providing needed firemen, support, and equipment — and $89.2 million would go a long way statewide.
Ron Peterka is a Ramona resident.
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