State turning away most fire fee appeals

  Cromberg resident Linda Walker received notice that her appeal of the CalFire fee has been rejected.

  She is not alone.

  CalFire has ruled against 85 percent of those who filed appeals thus far.

  Plumas County residents received bills this fall for a new annual fire prevention fee established by the state Assembly. The $150 fee was designed to pay for fire prevention services in state responsibility areas.

  State responsibility areas are defined as state and privately owned forest, watershed and rangeland where the state is financially responsible for the prevention and suppression of wildfires.

  According to CalFire, there are 10,991 fee payers in Plumas County and 1,551 in Sierra County.

  The fee is $150 per habitable structure. However, homeowners within the boundaries of a fire protection district were to receive a $35 reduction.

  There were immediate objections across the state and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association filed a class-action lawsuit in Superior Court, which is still working its way through the process.

  CalFire provided a protest form for residents who did not think their property should be taxed. They were instructed to pay the fee and file the protest.

  As of late December 2012, the state had received 55,416 appeals, about half of which had been processed. Of those that were processed, 85 percent had been denied.

  Walker’s was one of the 85 percent.

  Walker had submitted her appeal Oct. 29, 2012, and received a response dated Dec. 23, 2012. Walker based her original appeal on the Howard Jarvis argument that the fire fee was a tax that had been enacted unconstitutionally.

  When she contacted CalFire she was told that she could file an amended appeal detailing other pertinent information such as the fact that the Walkers had invited the Plumas County Fire Safe Council to visit their property and had cleared the property as instructed.

  However, Walker wasn’t optimistic that an amended appeal would be any more successful because she knew of others who had cited similar information and were still denied their appeal.

  As the first round of fire fee bills are still rolling into the state, the second round of bills (for fiscal year 2012-13) could be sent out as early as March.

  It’s estimated that the fire fee will add $85 million annually to state coffers.

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