The $150 fee goes into effect in communities where the state handles firefighting responsibilities

BY JIM MILLER
SACRAMENTO BUREAU
jmiller@pe.com

Published: 22 July 2012 08:52 PM

SACRAMENTO More than a year after lawmakers approved it, the state soon will begin collecting a $150 fire-prevention fee on hundreds of thousands of houses and other habitable structures in rural parts of California where the state has the main firefighting responsibility.

The Board of Equalization will start sending out bills early next month.

The mailing is scheduled to proceed alphabetically, by county, and finish up by December.

The state expects to collect $89 million for fiscal 2011-12, which ended last month.

Fee notices for the fiscal year that began July 1 are set to go out in March 2013 — if opponents’ promised lawsuit doesn’t stop the fee in its tracks.

The fire-prevention charge was part of the budget package passed in June 2011. Supporters, including Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic legislative leaders, said state taxpayers have effectively been subsidizing people living in fire-prone rural areas.

“We’re moving forward. We have been moving forward since the law was signed. We understand that this funds a very vital service that we perform,” said Cal Fire spokeswoman Janet Upton.

There are 825,488 structures in 31 million acres of “state responsibility area” that are subject to the fee, according to Cal Fire. Of those, 33,843 structures are in Riverside County and 65,637 are in San Bernardino, the second-highest total in the state behind San Diego County. Structures covered by a local fire district are eligible for a $35 discount.

The state will send out 755,863 bills, reflecting the fact that some people own multiple structures subject to the fee. The Board of Equalization is scheduled to discuss the fee program Wednesday, with board officials last week declining to provide specifics of when residents of different counties can expect to find the bill in their mailboxes.

Cal Fire officials have said the charge will raise millions for brush clearing and other prevention efforts that would help prevent devastating wildfires that cost the state millions of dollars. The recent Robbers Fire near Auburn in Northern California has cost the state $11 million, and counting, they said.

FEE VS. TAX

Fee opponents, meanwhile, have threatened to file a lawsuit to overturn the charge. They already have lined up dozens of potential plaintiffs from among property owners in the responsibility area.

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