The controversial Rural Fire Fee appears to still have some spark to it, and doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon for residents in counties across the state.
But it could be revised before fees are collected this August. The $150 annual fee has drawn fierce opposition from homeowners and county officials throughout rural parts of the state and it is slated to affect around 800,000 homeowners beginning this summer. Governor Jerry Brown signed the fee into law after state lawmakers passed the bill late last year,
Many Republicans and taxpayer advocate groups have called for the fee to be repealed, and lawsuits are expected once the first fees are assessed later this year. In light of that, Assemblyman Wes Chesbro (D-Eureka) is offering an alternative: modification to address some of the criticism directed at the fee.
Chesbro has retreated from an earlier position calling for the fee to be repealed because he argues the state cannot afford to lose out on the much-needed revenue; instead, under the terms of AB 2474, Chesbro says that property owners should be able to avoid the fee if they already pay $150 or more to a local fire protection district. In addition, the bill would take into account property size and fire risk when it comes to the amount that a property owner has to pay, instead of a flat rate of $150 for everyone.
Notably, representatives and residents in inland regions, such as Riverside and San Bernardino counties, probably won’t be pleased to learn they would have to pay more under Chesbro’s revision because those areas are described as having a “high or very high” fire risk.
The Assemblyman commented, “There are many members — probably every rural member — who would like to get rid of the fee. My challenge in attracting some Republican votes is finding some Republicans who are willing to say, I’m against it, I hate it, but like the Democrat from the North Coast, the next best thing is to try to make it fairer.”
Chesbro previously opined that the fee is “inequitable in places,” such as his rain-soaked district, where there are an estimated 85,000 housing units in that State Responsibility Area, the most in the state, based on census and CalFire data.
Chesbro might have trouble convincing some Republicans, who regard the fee as unconstitutional and believe a legal challenge will render the bill irrelevant. AB 1506, which would repeal the fee, is currently making its way through the legislature. AB 1506 has a fair amount of support from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and local lawmakers such as Mono County’s Senate representative Ted Gaines. It made it out of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee, according to the Press Enterprise but stalled last week in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
It will be evaluated later this spring, along with other bills that have an impact on the state budget, but its prospects are considered dim.
As Long Valley Fire Chief Fred Stump pointed out, even if the fee is somehow repealed, fees assessed this year would still have to be paid. A repeal would only go into effect as of Jan. 1, 2013.