The Inyo County Board of Supervisors expressed concern at Tuesday’s meeting in Independence about a new law that will require Inyo County residents to pay a $150 State Responsibility Area (SRA) fee beginning this fiscal year. The law, passed as part of the state budget, requires the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) adopt emergency regulations to establish and implement the SRA fee in order to fund state fire prevention.
Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant explained that typically Cal Fire has received 90% of its funding from the state general fund. However, given the state’s current budget crisis, Cal Fire now needs a more stable funding source. The state’s solution: an SRA “Benefit Fee” for rural residents living near wildland areas.
According to an August 23 story in Tehachapi News, the new fee will be imposed on more than 846,000 homes and apply to almost all residents of Inyo County, as well as some in Mono County. All owners of “habitable structures,” which include both residential structures and non-residential structures like stores, warehouses, hospitals, libraries, museums, and government buildings, including jails, will pay the $150. Further, residential “habitable structures” with more than one dwelling unit will be charged $25 for each additional unit. “What about a garage or bathroom?” asked District 4 Supervisor Marty Fortney. “If all of the sudden your garage becomes habitable, it’s another $25.”
Another point of contention for the Board: the Cal Fire regulation offers minimal fee exemptions for structures already covered by local fire districts. Property owners within an SRA and also within the boundaries of a local agency that provides fire protection services will only receive a reduction of $35 per habitable structure.
“The state wants to tax Inyo County residents whether they have fire protection or not,” said District 1 Supervisor Linda Arcularius. “But that $150 won’t even provide fire protection.” Instead, the money generated by the fee – as much as $200 million in years to come – will go toward fire prevention.
According to Tehachapi News, in August state fire officials noted that because the law requires the fee revenue go to state fire prevention efforts, Cal Fire will be losing between $50 million to as much as $200 million for firefighting efforts. Said Supervisor Fortney, “This makes no sense.”
The regulation promises that some revenue will be transferred into grants to local agencies, including Fire Protection Districts, Fire Safe Councils, and California Conservation Corps, but these grants will also focus on fire prevention rather than firefighting.