Supervisors endorse two state fire tax relief bills

By Joe Naiman

Two bills introduced in the state Legislature to provide relief from the fire tax imposed on property owners in state responsibility areas have the support of San Diego County supervisors.

The supervisors directed the county’s chief administrative officer to draft a letter expressing their support for Assembly Bill 1519 and Senate Bill 832.

“I think this action today would send a message to Sacramento,” said Supervisor Dianne Jacob, board chair.

“Supervisor Jacob and I feel strongly that the SRA fee is illegal taxation, with no increase in fire protection or fire safety,” said Supervisor Bill Horn. “In addition to legislation that repeals the fee, which the board was already on record supporting, the county will now support any state legislation that repeals, reduces or exempts people or geographical areas from having to pay the tax.”

In 2011, the California Legislature made property with habitable structures in a firefighting state responsibility area subject to the $150 annual State Responsibility Area Fire Prevention Benefit Fee, leaving implementation to the Board of Forestry.

Cal Fire’s primary responsibility is wildland fire prevention and suppression, which the state law noted includes areas within local fire districts. Owners of structures within the boundaries of a local fire protection agency such as Ramona Municipal Water District receive a $35 reduction but must pay the remainder of the tax along with the taxes or benefit fees they pay to the local fire agency.

“It punishes homeowners who are already doing their part to pay for services in our fire-prone backcountry,” Jacob said.

The law imposes a civil penalty for each 30 days the assessment remains unpaid.

AB 1519 was introduced by Tim Donnelly, a Republican whose district office is in Hesperia, and would eliminate the penalty for unpaid fees.

The assessment is being challenged in court by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, which is arguing that the fee is actually a tax that requires voter approval. AB 1519 has been assigned to the Assembly’s Natural Resources Committee.

Ted Gaines, a Republican with district offices in Redding and El Dorado Hills, introduced SB 832. Initially SB 832 exempted the owner of a structure that has been destroyed or significantly damaged by a natural disaster. On Feb. 14, the Senate’s Natural Resources and Wildlife Committee amended to eliminate the fire fee.

San Diego County supervisors previously included repeal of the fire tax in their legislative program but had not authorized support for legislation that reduces the tax or exempts all or specific populations or areas.

Approximately 74,000 properties in San Diego County are within the state responsibility area, including about 11,000 structures in Ramona.

“I just want to get rid of this tax,” Horn said.

   
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