Governor signs fire tax bill for rural areas

By Karen Brainard

A California Assembly bill that would impose a fee of up to $150 on rural property owners for fire prevention was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

The bill, ABX1 29, targets property owners in state responsibility areas (SRAs), designated rural areas where the state has financial responsibility for wildland fire protection.

County Supervisor Dianne Jacob’s office said the bill would affect approximately 73,000 homes in San Diego County and give the state about $10.9 million. Jacob has criticized the bill, calling it double taxation on homeowners who are already paying for fire protection through their property taxes. In addition, many are paying extra taxes and benefit assessment fees to their local fire districts, she said.

Although no data was immediately available as to how many homeowners in the Ramona area would be impacted by this bill, much of the rural lands surrounding Ramona are state responsibility areas.

In his signing message, Brown said that, because of population increases and urban development in state responsibility areas in recent decades, there has been a significant increase in state costs associated with fire protection.

“This bill recognizes that a portion of the costs borne by the state for wildland fire prevention and protection services should be funded by the landowners in these areas,” he said.

“A fee consistent with the ‘beneficiary pays principle,’ such as the one intended in this bill, can achieve significant General Fund savings,” Brown said. But, he added, the revenues may not materialize due to the current draft of the bill. Brown, therefore, is directing the state’s Department of Finance and CalFire to work with the legislature to clean up the bill’s language to ensure the revenues.

The bill requires that the State Board of Equalization assess the fee in the 2011-12 fiscal year.



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