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Opponents keep fighting as fire fee bills sent out
By TIM HEARDEN, Capital Press August 14, 2012
SACRAMENTO - The state is beginning to send out bills to some 800,000 property owners to collect its controversial fees for fire protection in rural areas, but opponents vow to keep fighting the charges.
The fees are as much as $150 per structure each year for service by the state fire agency.
The California Farm Bureau Federation is among several farm groups that had opposed the fees and continues to do so, said John Gamper, the CFBF's director of taxation and land use.
Gamper said the Farm Bureau will cooperate with efforts by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, which has threatened to sue the state if the fees were implemented.
"In the end, I think the courts will see through the smoke-screen that it's a tax," which would require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, Gamper said.
Officials from the state Board of Forestry and Fire Protection did not return a call seeking comment. Executive officer George Gentry said in June the board had received "thousands of emails, hundreds of letters and many calls" about the fee in addition to numerous comments at its meetings in Sacramento.
Board Chairman Stan Dixon said then during a public hearing in Redding, Calif., that the Legislature had directed board members to impose the fees. He promised to "make an honest effort to do the right thing."
The fees were set up as part of the 2011-12 budget package, which aims to raise $85 million to offset cuts to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The charges were condemned by farm groups such as the CFBF and California Cattlemen's Association and county officials. Shasta County Supervisor Les Baugh and other counties' officials have said they would join the Howard Jarvis suit on the grounds that the charge amounts to a tax that was passed illegally.
Under an initiative passed by California voters in 2010, a budget that contains tax increases must pass the Legislature with a two-thirds majority. A fee can be approved by a majority vote if it's shown those paying the money are receiving the benefit.
A bill by Assemblyman Kevin Jeffries, R-Lake Elsinore, to repeal the fees died in the lower chamber's Appropriations Committee in the spring.
Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, and state Sen. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, issued a joint statement last week condemning the state's move to send out bills. They noted that most rural residents will not receive any additional services funded by the fees.
Gamper said volunteer and county fire departments are responsible for fighting structure fires, not the state.
"The goal of this measure is more taxes to fund an out-of-control state government and a broken budget," Nielsen said in the statement. "The tax will be expanded and applied to more and more structures on our properties to fund bureaucracy without increasing protection of our lives or property."
California Farm Bureau Federation: http://cfbf.com
California Cattlemen's Association: http://calcattlemen.org
Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association: http://www.hjta.org
California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection: http://www.bof.fire.ca.gov/
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Page Updated: Thursday August 16, 2012 02:39 AM Pacific
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