The Ins and Outs of the Fire Fee - Mountain News : News

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The Ins and Outs of the Fire Fee

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Posted: Thursday, April 16, 2015 12:00 am

The question, Assemblyman Jay Obernolte said at the fire fee town hall meeting sponsored by him and Senator Mike Morrell, is since we are not in a recession now and don’t have a deficit, “why are we still arguing about this tax?”

In the depths of the recession, he explained, when California did not have enough money to pay its bills, “the government looked around for ways to raise money. They decided to charge a fee for Cal Fire’s services.”

Because a tax would require a two-thirds vote and a fee only a simple majority, the legislature said, “we’ll enact a fee in the state responsibility areas. We’ll charge them for fire protection. That was the genesis of this process,” Obernolte said.

While a tax could have gone on property tax bills, a fee can’t. That makes its collection onerous, Obernolte said.

“The legislature told everyone the fee would go to Cal Fire to augment its budget but at the same time they cut the Cal Fire budget by about the same amount. It was a way to raise money to help the state out of financial problems.”

As for why he thinks this is a tax and not a fee, Obernolte said “because of the circumstances under which it passed. If it walks, talks and flies like a duck, it’s a duck.

“Cal Fire was providing fire protection to SRAs before the legislature enacted this fee. It’s not like they enacted a new program.

“Fire protection is a basic feature of our government. It’s not something extra being added.”

And third, Obernolte said, “they singled out fire protection for this special treatment.”

Attempts to repeal the fee have failed thus far. The lawsuit filed by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association is scheduled for a new hearing in June, Obernolte said. They hope to have a decision this year. If it goes against the state, the assemblyman said, it will undoubtedly be appealed. “It’s still a couple of years away minimum before we get a solution.”

Senator Morrell said that Assemblyman Obernolte “dialed down into the deepest part of the bill. I want to give you an overall picture of what’s happening in the U.S. The government has run amok,” he said. “More than 70 percent of the people are distrustful of our government. Government is taking power away from us.”

Both the senator and the assemblyman emphasized that when this next round of fire fee bills is received by mountain residents, they must pay them within the 30-day window from when they are mailed, not when they are received. Obernolte has a bill pending that would extend that window to 60 days.

Both recommend marking checks “paid under protest” and they explained the protest process. The petition for redetermination form to be filled out to protest the fee is available at firetaxprotest.org. The completed form, with the explanation attachment that is available at the same site, should be mailed to the following address:

• Fire Prevention Fee Service Center, Attn: Petitions, P.O. Box 2254, Suisun City, CA 94585

In previous years, the form had to be sent to three addresses, but a bill simplifying the procedure passed last year.

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