Supervisors continue to seek return of CalFire fees
The supervisors received no answer when they sent a letter to the state, and aren’t hopeful that their resolution will fare any better, but they want the $1.2 million in CalFire fees collected from local property owners returned to the county.
“We never got a response,” said Jerry Sipe, the county’s office of emergency services director, of the letter that the Plumas Board of Supervisors sent in October 2012.
Sipe presented the resolution to the supervisors during their April 9 meeting and they adopted it unanimously.
“Today we are just strengthening the picture,” Sipe told the board.
The fee is a $150 annual charge paid by property owners who reside in state responsibility areas for fire protection. The fee, collected by the State Board of Equalization on behalf of CalFire, is to be used for fire prevention activities.
The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association has filed a lawsuit charging that the fee, which was enacted by the state Legislature, is actually an illegal tax.
Sen. Ted Gaines authored Senate Bill 17 to repeal the $150 fee, but the bill didn’t pass out of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water.
Mike Callahan, a member of the Plumas County Fire Safe Council and proponent of getting the fees returned, cited a variety of reasons for the request.
Callahan described the limited presence that CalFire maintains in the county and said, “They don’t even know what our problems are.”
Additionally, Callahan said that the county has the “proven resources” to carry out fire prevention activities.
Just whom the money would be returned to and how it would be divided remains undetermined, but Sipe said that local fire districts, fire safe councils and Firewise communities are now providing the majority of fire prevention services in the county.
Mia Van Fleet, an Indian Valley resident who was in the audience to discuss the general plan, said, “Return it to the people who paid it.”
Supervisor Jon Kennedy, who announced during the meeting that SB 17 had failed, said, “If we’re going to have to pay it, we need to get it back to our local fire districts.”
Another audience member, Heather Kingdon, who was also present to address the general plan, asked about the fire safe council. “Is it a county organization or an NGO (nongovernmental organization)?”
“All NGOs are not Satan,” Kennedy responded.
Many of those who have voiced concern about the general plan have also expressed a distrust of NGOs.
Kennedy went on to say that “Plumas County has the best argument for what we are doing here” with regard to fire prevention activities.