District 2 El Dorado County Supervisor Ray Nutting spoke to a full house Sept. 14 at the Marshall Grange Hall regarding the recent Cal Fire State Resonsibility Area fire fee many recently received in the mail. Most in the Divide area received a bill for $115, with a $35 credit for fees already paid to local fire departments.
The first thing Nutting did was to give everyone a piece of paper with a Website on it — firetaxprotest.org. This site outlines the directions for those wishing to protest and tells where to send three copies of the protest letter.
Nutting gave some history as to the background of the fee. Attempts have been made for 15 years to get such a fee. Governors Deukmejian, Davis and Schwarzenegger would not sign it and it never received a 2/3 vote of the Legislature. According to Nutting, the state has raided the Cal Fire budget of $50 million and this is a way to return some of those funds.
The fees that are paid will go into the general fund of Cal Fire and that agency can then spend those funds as they wish. Word is that education about wildfire prevention will be an important aspect. These funds will provide no additional services nor actual prevention, other than public education, according to what information is currently available.
Nutting said it is very important that everyone pay this fee on time, as the penalties are very stiff. Those wishing to protest the fee, however, must follow the process outlined on the above Website. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association believes this fee is an illegal tax and encourages people to protest through the specific process. The group is suing the state and the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors supports this lawsuit.
The process to protest is as follows: Print out the form from the Website. Have three copies of it. Also make three copies of the $115 check. Property parcel number, which is found on the tax bill, must be written on the check. Fill out the three forms with the information requested. Attach the one form included (reason for your protest) as well as a copy of the check to show payment has been made. On the memo line of the check, write the words “Under Protest.”
A total of four mailings will be made — the bill received with a check payment, and the three protest forms to Fire Prevention Petitions, Board of Forestry and Fire Protection and Board of Equalization. Only those people who follow these directions will get a refund, when and if the Howard Jarvis lawsuit is successful. Results of the project are not expected to be known for a minimum of 18 months.
This fee is for habitable dwellings. There is no bill for a vacant parcel. According to the information on the billing, a lien can be placed on individual homes and it can be foreclosed upon if the fee is not paid within 30 days of the date on the bill. The bill received is for the 2011-12 year and in March another bill for the 2012-13 year can be expected.
According to Nutting, this fee was approved by Democrats in urban areas. He indicated that local Democrats are not in favor of it and understand the inequities inherent in this fee. Difficulties in collecting the fee are expected, as a result of when properties changed hands and verification of current ownership on some parcels. It was mentioned that this fee is not tax-deductible, and local resident outcry against the fee has been very loud.