By Joe Naiman
San Diego County supervisors object to some fire policies included in the 2011-12 state budget.
A 5-0 board of supervisors vote Aug. 2 directed the county’s chief administrative officer to draft letters to Gov. Jerry Brown and the county’s state legislators in opposition to the state’s $34 million cut to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire).
The supervisors also want the state to repeal the $150 fee for structures in the State Responsibility Area, and they’re ready to challenge the recently enacted fee.
The Cal Fire cuts would include 730 seasonal firefighters and would reduce staffing by 25 percent on fire engines. Cal Fire’s southern region, which also includes San Bernardino and Riverside, would see a 50 percent reduction in its winter preparedness engine staffing from 20 engines to 10.
The southern region would also lose five firefighting bulldozers and the San Diego region’s loses exclusive use of the DC-10 aerial firefighting aircraft during the peak fire season.
“Public safety is the primary obligation of the state government,” said Supervisor Pam Slater-Price. “This is a very dangerous decision.”
Since San Diego County has more than 65,000 parcels in the State Responsibility Area, the $150 fee would provide approximately $10 million annually from San Diego County.
“There is no guarantee that $10 million will return to San Diego County,” Slater-Price said. “There are many significant flaws with this, too. The residents already pay for their fire protection.”
Any discussion of legal challenges to the fee would take place in closed session. The options discussed at the board meeting include asking Cal Fire to exempt San Diego County from the fee. The county already spends $15.5 million annually to augment rural fire protection, including $10.2 million to contract with Cal Fire to enhance fire protection at various stations.
“This is double taxation,” Slater-Price said.
In some cases the fee may amount to triple taxation, as some fire agency residents pay additional assessments beyond their property tax that is sent to the county or to fire districts.
“There are already homeowners who pay for special assessments,” said Supervisor Dianne Jacob.
Jacob noted that Crest residents in her district pay $382 annually for fire protection in addition to their regular property tax contributions.
“This tax is a shakedown to plug the state’s gaping budget hole,” she said. “Nobody in Sacramento can say exactly how the money would be used.”
Supervisor Bill Horn pays property taxes to his own fire protection district for his Valley Center property but would pay the additional fee.
“I don’t really want to pay a fee to go into their general fund,” he said.
“Today it’s the backcountry. Tomorrow the state will find some way to tax urban areas,” Jacob said.