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Fire mitigation fee rates unchanged this fiscal year

The fire mitigation fee rates paid by developers to fund the cost of fire department facilities serving the new development will not change for Fiscal Year 2017-18. The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 May 2 to maintain the fees at their 2016-17 rates. The fee for non-agricultural construction will remain at 56 cents per square foot, the fee for agricultural buildings without sprinklers will remain at 15 cents per square foot, the fee for agricultural buildings with fire sprinkler systems remains at two cents per square foot, and the fee for poultry and greenhouse buildings is still one cent per square foot.

The supervisors also accepted the Fire Mitigation Fee Review Committee’s annual report and found that the 22 participating fire agencies were in conformance with the County Fire Mitigation Fee Ordinance for Fiscal Year 2015-16.

“There really isn’t a fire season any more; wildfires are a threat all year long,” Supervisor Bill Horn said. “That’s why it’s so important to keep our fire mitigation fee program well-funded and to maintain the fee structure through the next fiscal year.”

The county established the Fire Mitigation Fee Program in 1986 to provide funding for fire protection and emergency medical services in the unincorporated communities.

Although local fire agencies lack the legal authority to impose mitigation fees on new development, the county collects a fee from building permit applicants on behalf of 19 independent fire protection districts and three county service areas with fire protection responsibility. The mitigation fees are distributed quarterly to agency accounts and must be used for capital projects or to purchase firefighting equipment or supplies which will serve new developments.

The Fire Mitigation Fee Review Committee reviews the annual reports of the participating agencies to confirm that the improvements are necessary to serve new development.

The committee consists of two fire chiefs (currently Tony Michel of the Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District and Bill Paskle of the Alpine Fire Protection District), one elected director of a fire protection district (currently Ken Munson of the North County Fire Protection District), one County Service Area staff member (currently Theresa Vargas), one San Diego County Fire Authority staff member (currently Susan Quasarano), and one representative apiece from the Building Industry Association (currently Matt Adams), the San Diego County Farm Bureau (currently executive director Eric Larson), and the county’s Planning Commission (currently David Pallinger).

The County Fire Mitigation Fee Ordinance allows fee ceilings to be increased or decreased in proportion to changes in the Cost of Construction Index. The ordinance also requires an evaluation of the base fee every five years based upon dividing the average cost in current dollars to construct a fully-equipped fire station within the county’s unincorporated area by the average square footage of structures served by that average fire station.

That result becomes the new base fee and was last adjusted in 2014. A 8.19 percent increase in the Cost of Construction Index between October 2014 and October 2015 led to fee increases last year from 52 cents per square foot for non-agricultural construction and 14 cents per square foot for agricultural buildings without sprinklers.

This year the change in the Cost of Construction Index was small enough that no changes in the fees were warranted.

The Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District received $205,396.48 of Fire Mitigation Fee Program revenue in Fiscal Year 2015-16. County Service Area No. 107, which provides fire protection to the Elfin Forest and Harmony Grove areas, had mitigation fund revenue of $169,816.96.

The San Marcos Fire Protection District which serves unincorporated San Marcos, collected $46,131.34. The Vista Fire Protection District, which covers unincorporated Vista and also part of Bonsall, had $26,181.40 of revenue.

Because the funding is used for capital improvements, it is not required to be spent in a particular fiscal year and funding can be used for debt service payback. The Fiscal Year 2016-17 planned capital expenditures approved by the Fire Mitigation Fee Review Committee include construction of a new Vista Fire Protection District fire station for which Fire Mitigation Fee Program revenue will be allowed for 53 percent of the estimated $5 million total cost, a Type I fire engine for Harmony Grove with a $612,250 cost, and San Marcos Fire Protection District debt service payback.