2012-12-06 / Front Page

Unincorporated areas hit with fire protection fee

By Anna Bitong

Homeowners in unincorporated areas of Ventura County will be receiving bills for a new state-imposed fire prevention fee starting this week.

In accordance with Assembly Bill X1 29, signed by the Legislature in July 2011, about 8,000 parcels in the county’s State Responsibility Area (SRA) will be levied $115 a year per habitable structure on the property.

The SRA includes state and privately owned forest, watershed and rangeland outside city boundaries.

The new fee is intended to provide a stable source of funding for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), which is responsible for protecting California’s privately owned wildlands.

Dennis Mathisen, a spokesperson for Cal Fire, said the fees will replace lost revenue. In 2011-12, the state cut about $85 million from Cal Fire’s budget, he said. The new fees are expected to net between $85 and $89 million.

COVERED—Those areas shaded in yellow are in the State Responsibility Area and are therefore subject to a new $115 annual fee per inhabited structure for fire protection. Courtesy of Ventura County Fire Protection District COVERED—Those areas shaded in yellow are in the State Responsibility Area and are therefore subject to a new $115 annual fee per inhabited structure for fire protection. Courtesy of Ventura County Fire Protection District But in Ventura County, Cal Fire contracts with the Ventura County Fire Department to provide these services, and VCFD opposes the new fee.

“We believe residents living within the SRA and within the jurisdiction of our department are already paying for fire protection and prevention,” Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said. “In addition, we’ve managed our budget very carefully, and we don’t require the funds being collected under this fee to provide these services to Ventura County residents.”

The $115-per-structure fee would have been greater if not for the fact that the area is already covered by VCFD. In parts of the state not already covered by a local fire agency, homeowners will be paying $150 per structure to Cal Fire.

County homeowners already pay for fire protection through their property taxes, Lorenzen said.

Also opposing the fee is the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. The anti-tax group is seeking to overturn the law because it believes the imposed fee meets the definition of a tax, which requires two-thirds legislative approval, and the fee was enacted with only a majority vote.

If the association wins its case, the charges will be refunded to property owners, Lorenzen said.

The fees collected by the State Board of Equalization will go toward Cal Fire’s budget, which is spent on fire prevention activities such as the county’s fire hazard reduction and weed abatement programs, the chief said.

Cal Fire can also issue grants to counties for local fire prevention services.

Mathisen said the fees will benefit the people who are served by Cal Fire.

“We understand everyone’s concerns,” Mathisen said. “Cal Fire as well as the Board of Equalization are in a position of having to implement the governor’s directives. We appreciate the ability to provide fire prevention services, and this will help support that effort.”

To find out if a home is within the SRA, go to www.bof.fire.ca.gov/sra_viewer. For questions about the fee, call the Fire Prevention Fee Service Center (888) 310-6447 or visit www.firepreventionfee.org.

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