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Fire Protection Fees A Hot Issue In Sacramento

7_29_fire_WD__0032Details are still being sorted out, but many local homeowners could expect a bill for up to $150 in fire protection fees.

 

On July 7, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 1x29 which allowed for homeowners to be assessed the fee if they lived in State Responsibility Areas (SRAs).


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“The way the bill is written right now is that homeowners living in state responsibility area would be assessed a $150 fee, up to $150 for each structure. And structure is defined as a habitable or potentially habitable structure. So something somebody lives in,” said Daniel Berlant, spokesman for Cal Fire.

According to Cal Fire, there are just over half a million acres in the county that are considered state responsibility areas. Most of that is in the more rural parts of the county. A homeowner may believe they are not in an SRA section of the county because they receive fire protection services from the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

But that isn’t necessarily so.

Often times Cal Fire contracts with the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

“We pay them to provide fire services, fire protection in those areas,” Berlant said.

Still not sure if this means you’re going to get a bill?

“There’s a lot of state responsibility area outside the community of Santa Clarita. Most of the outskirts outside the actual city is state responsibility area. All the way up Highway 14 going into Palmdale is a good portion of where state responsibility is. Then taking Santa Clarita to the west all the way up to Ventura County is also under state responsibility area,” said Berlant.

The Board of Equalization is involved in issue too. They bear the responsibility for billing residents. One member, former State Senator George Runner, believes the fee will be challenged in court.

“My personal opinion is that it’s a tax and not a fee and therefore should require then the 2/3 which it did not get in the Legislature,” Runner said.

He believes the bill was more of a revenue raising scheme than truly being an issue of creating better fire protection.

Berlant disagrees, saying the money generated by the fee goes directly back into fire protection.

“The state has long been looking for a stable funding source to fund public safety, in particular for fire protection. So this is the way to be able to continue providing that same level of fire protection that California needs due to the fact that every single year we have wildfires,” Berlant said.

One of the details to be worked out before implementation is the cost the Board of Equalization would bear to bill homeowners.

The BOE has drafted a proposal to the Department of Finance requesting the hiring of 69 new positions at a start up cost of $6,487,000 and $6,938,000 in expenses every year after.

Runner says the BOE will meet about the request in the next couple of months.

Berlant, however, is confident the issue will be settled in the next 30 days or so.

“The bill has already passed and we’re looking how to implement it. So, once that’s addressed it would be this year that homeowners would be assessed that additional fee,” Berlant said.

Residents wishing to share their views on the issue may contact the State Board of Equalization and/or Cal Fire's Board of Forestry and Fire Prevention.