Joe Nelson, Staff Writer
Created: 11/24/2011 06:15:38 AM PST

San Bernardino County Supervisor Neil Derry is in a furor over a $150 state-imposed fire fee on rural property owners that is nearly double what was initially proposed in August.

Derry called the fee an act of “outright thievery” by Gov. Jerry Brown. The state Board of Forestry and Fire Protection approved the fee on a 6-2 vote on Nov. 10.

Derry is adamant that the fee is actually a tax in disguise. He says it is a mechanism to generate as much revenue for the state as possible without providing any services to taxpayers in return.

“This supposed fee is not based on anything other than filling the $50 million gap in Cal Fire’s budget,” Derry said. “They don’t provide any of the fire-prevention services they claim this fee is for. The county does.”

The fee could generate up to $88 million in revenue for Cal Fire and is expected to pull in roughly $50 million in its first year. That revenue will help provide a stable funding source for a portion of Cal Fire’s budget that is used for fire-prevention services, Cal Fire spokeswoman Janet Upton said.

Cal Fire is tasked with protecting 31 million acres of California’s privately-owned wildlands. State law allows the imposition of fire-service fees on people who own property on lands protected by the agency. The rationale is that those property owners receive a disproportionately larger benefit from Cal Fire’s services than other taxpaying citizens.

But opponents of the fee argue that property owners will be ponying up more than $100 annually to the state and getting no additional services in return.

“You’ll see nothing change in my district with the fee, other than the people will pay the fee and it will go straight to Sacramento,” said Mike Sherman, the chief of the Crest Forest Fire Protection District in Crestline. “All that money heads to Sacramento and disappears into the big, bloated government.”

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