By Lon Winburn
The Humboldt County Fire Chief’s Association, representing all local government fire departments in the county of Humboldt, would like to re-emphasize our opposition to the SRA fee (ABX1 29).
The battle taken up by the Chief’s Association dates back to July of 2011 with letters of opposition being forwarded to the State Board of Forestry and Fire Protection, Office of Administrative Law, California Fire Safe Council, Humboldt County Board of Supervisors, as well as numerous articles in local newspapers and a visit to Sacramento to make our plea before a Board of Forestry hearing. On a local level, we received an immense amount of support from both the Board of Supervisors and the Humboldt County Fire Safe Council; however, there was no stopping the wheels, which had been put in motion by the governor to utilize this additional fee in order to help balance the state’s budget crisis.
At the end of the 2011 budget session, the California Legislature adopted ABX1 29. The established statutes, among other items, directed the Board of Forestry and Fire Protection to adopt emergency regulations implementing a Fire Prevention Fee on structures within State Responsibility Areas (SRA). ABX1 29 was a “trailer bill” to the Budget Act of 2011. This bill was adopted in the final hours of the budget session and was adopted without benefit of legislative hearings or public comment.
As required by the legislation, the board adopted emergency regulations during its August meeting.
Recognizing the substantial impact that the fee would have on local agencies, the board “mitigated” the fee through the adoption of several provisions for fee deductions. Most significant was a fee deduction for those parcels that were within the boundary of a local fire protection agency (this would have amounted to a fee of $35, based on fire severity, instead of the current $115 for those properties within an established fire district). At the board’s November meeting, after the governor’s appointment of four new members, the board voted to amend the proposed regulations to increase the fee to the maximum allowed under the enabling legislation ($150 per habitable structure), apparently to more closely match the governor’s expectations and again, compensate for the budget deficit.
The amended regulations included a single deduction of $35 for those structures that were within boundaries of a local fire protection agency. Following the second submission to the Office of Administrative Law, the emergency regulations became effective.
The measure is very specific in that the funds are to be used for fire prevention activities regarding vegetation type fires, not fire suppression efforts. The intent of the bill is to pass on the costs of those prevention activities aimed at reducing the effects of structures in state responsibility areas (of which CalFire holds financial responsibility for) which the bill states can impair wildland firefighting techniques and result in greater damage to state lands. While there is no substantial evidence to support this claim and although the concept may be a noble one, what is being ignored is the devastating effect this bill will have on local fire jurisdictions, which provide the frontline emergency response to their communities.
The fee has also been opposed by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, which claims that the fire levy is a tax, not a fee, and as a tax, it failed to receive a two-thirds vote in the legislature under the provisions of Proposition 13. The HJTA is committed to ultimately having the tax declared illegal.
The Fire Chief’s Association would like to remind residents that your local fire department is the agency that provides year-round fire suppression and medical emergency response as well as prevention activities, which include mapping, fire pre-planning and public education, to mention a few. Although CalFire is an excellent organization, they do not currently nor will they in the future be able to provide the same level of service 12 months out of the year. We have, over the years, developed a great working relationship with CalFire, assisting them when needed and them assisting us when needed, and we fully expect that relationship to continue. Please understand, this fee is not an attempt by Cal-Fire to increase its available revenue but is a means by which our governor is attempting to gain additional funds to balance the state’s budget. The Humboldt County Fire Chief’s Association supports our local CalFire unit in every way possible and will continue to do s o however, we would like to remind the residents of our county that your local fire departments need your continuing support. The imposed fees will not supplement your local fire agencies’ revenue.
You may address your comments and/or questions to the following: _
State Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro
Capitol office: P.O. Box 942849, Sacramento, CA 94249-0001
Eureka office: 710 E Street, Suite 150, Eureka, CA 95501
Phone: 916-319-2001, 707-445-7014 Fax: 916-319-2101, 707-445-6607
Fire Prevention Fee Service Center
P.O. Box 2254 Suisun City, CA 94585
Cal Fire Sacramento Headquarters
P.O. Box 944246 Sacramento, CA 94244-2460
Phone: 916-653-2153 __
Lon Winburn is president of the Humboldt County Fire Chief’s Association.
Opinions expressed in My Word pieces do not necessarily reflect the editorial viewpoint of the Times- Standard or the Redwood Times.