CAL FIRE gives Fire Prevention Fee primer
Dunsmuir area residents living outside city limits joined elected officials to publicly share their displeasure with having to pay the state’s new Fire Prevention Fee Thursday.
About 20 people showed up for a forum hosted by the Dunsmuir Fire Safe Council in city council chambers. Audience members twice clarified that their anger was directed at the state, not at the CAL FIRE officers who fielded questions.
The officers were commended for their efforts. No one spoke in favor of the fee.
McCloud Battalion Chief Darin Quigley told the audience that those facing the fee will pay extra first. “This was passed in 2011,” he said. “The bill you already received was for the year 2011-12. Shortly, you will receive one for 2012-13. Then one will be due around January. Yes, you will have to pay three times in a 12-month period.”
July 11, 2011, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law Assembly Bill x1 29, establishing a fire protection and prevention fee to be paid by property owners in developed wildland areas. Habitable structures in “state responsibility areas,” rural regions outside of city limits, are now assessed a $150 annual fee. If an SRA property is already covered by a local fire district, the fee is reduced to $115.
Revenue will be collected by the California Board of Equalization and allocated to the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE), according to Brown’s signing statement.
Nadine Bailey, a representative from Assembly member Brian Dahle’s office, told the Dunsmuir audience that Dahle thinks the fee is a tax and did not vote for it.
Dahle was elected to the Assembly from District 1 in November 2012, after the bill was signed.
“Our office in Redding received hundreds of calls on this,” said Bailey. “Maybe one was in favor.” She called the implementation of the bill a “train wreck,” stating, “The Board of Equalization did not have the capacity to send out the bills.”
Dunsmuir Fire Safe President Mike Refkin asked if Siskiyou County had any role in collections.
Siskiyou County Supervisor Ed Valenzuela said the county doesn’t see the money. “It goes directly to the Board of Equalization,” he said. “We were all against it. That’s as far as we went with it.”
He added that the county had no input into development of the bill.
Shasta County Supervisor Bill Schappell called the fee an illegal tax. “It’s a state management error. We have to pay for it,” he said. “My thinking is we need to protest it.”
Bailey urged audience members to send letters or emails to Dahle’s office. “We have even have categories for the messages so we can see how many people are for or against something,” she said. She provided a contact address of firstname.lastname@example.org, and a phone number of (530) 223-6300. Letters can be sent to 280 Hemsted Drive, Suite 110, Redding, CA 96002.
Where do the funds go?
CAL FIRE Assistant Chief of Operations Ron Bravo, who works out of the Yreka office, said funds raised by the Fire Prevention Fee went into the State Responsibility Area Fund. “That’s where your money is going,” he said. “It’s sitting in a fund.”
Supervisor Valenzuela asked if any of the money was going to fund hiring of CAL FIRE personnel.
“Yes, we’ve put in a request for 65 new positions,” said Quigley. “Right now our prevention bureau is only three people.” He pointed to a slide onscreen asking for $11.7 million for the positions. He said the purpose of the fund is treatment, education, prevention and planning.
In bullets straight from the text of AB x1 29, another slide listed fire prevention operations eligible for SRA funds:
• Local assistance grants.
• Grants to Fire Safe Councils, the California Conservation Corps, or certified local conservation corps for fire prevention projects and activities in the state responsibility areas.
• Grants to a qualified nonprofit organization with a demonstrated ability to satisfactorily plan, implement, and complete a fire prevention project applicable to the state responsibility areas. The department may establish other qualifying criteria.
• Inspections by the department for compliance with defensible space requirements around structures in state responsibility areas.
• Public education to reduce fire risk in the state responsibility areas.
• Fire severity and fire hazard mapping by the department in the state responsibility areas.
• Other fire prevention projects in the state responsibility areas, authorized by the board.
When pressed by audience members for monies available and timelines for grants, Bravo said he couldn’t answer any questions beyond the text of the bill. “We’re trying to interpret the law as written,” he said. “We can’t guarantee what happens with the funds.”
Bravo said information on the fee, including interactive maps to determine if a structure is in an state responsibility area, can be found on www.firepreventionfee.org.
“If you don’t have a computer, you can come to our offices in Weed or McCloud,” he said. “Our office computer is taxpayer paid for. We will do anything in our power to help you.” The office phone number is (530) 964-2150.
After the presentation, audience members said they were glad for the information CAL FIRE provided them, but they still harbored doubts about the Fire Prevention Fee. Some murmured suspicions about the “black hole” of the state general fund.
“My belief is that money will not go where it’s supposed to,” said Fran Fields.
Mike Sargenti, who is credited by Refkin for being the citizen who suggested holding the forum, messaged through Facebook, “The questions I asked and got answered, [but did] not satisfy my uneasiness toward what my problems about the whole thing really are, which is the very poor people that can’t afford this. I feel nothing will change as result of paying these fees, and the disadvantaged people [will get] stuck with these fees forever.”