REGION — The San Diego County Board of Supervisors is continuing its fight against the annual fire prevention fee billed to property owners in areas where the state is financially responsible for wildfire suppression.
“From its inception, I and this board, on record fighting against this tax, have argued that it punishes homeowners who are already doing their part to pay for services in our fire-prone back country,” said Supervisor Dianne Jacob at the Board’s Feb. 25 meeting.
Established in 2011, the fire prevention fee is an annual payment collected from property owners in the State Responsibility Area (SRA), land where the state pays for the prevention and fighting of wildfires.
The fee is intended to cover the cost of fire protection efforts, including brush clearing, from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire.
The fee is currently set at $152.33 for each habitable structure located within the SRA.
The fee is reduced by $35 if the building is on property that receives fire protection services from a local agency.
The County Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed to support two legislative measures that would restrict the impact of the fire fees.
Assembly Bill 1519 would eliminate the civil penalties levied upon property owners who do not pay the fire fees.
Senate Bill 832 exempts owners from paying the prevention fee for buildings that have been significantly damaged or destroyed by a natural disaster.
In a consent item, the supervisors agreed to send a letter to express their support for the two bills to San Diego’s legislative representatives in Sacramento.
The fees are going to be sent out to property owners in San Diego County from May 8 to May 16 for the fee’s third billing year.
Most of those who will be billed have property in unincorporated areas of Rancho Santa Fe, but some properties in Escondido and Ramona who will also be billed.
Jacob has argued since the passage of the fee that San Diego County residents in rural areas already pay for fire protection from local agencies with property taxes.
She has also emphasized that the county pays a $15.5 million annually for fire protection services, $10.2 million of which is contracted with Cal Fire.
The County Board of Supervisors letter explaining the vote on whether to support the two bills stated, “Although the tax is intended to fund a variety of fire prevention services within the SRA, including brush clearance on public lands along roadways and evacuation routes, it appears as though almost all of the revenue is going to stay in the bureaucracy in Sacramento.”
The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association is currently working to have the fire fee repealed via a class action lawsuit.