RANDY PENCH / rpench@sacbee.com

Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative Democrats approved the $150- per-year fire fee on rural properties as part of the 2011 budget deal.

El Dorado County joins lawsuit opposing fire fee for rural properties

Published: Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 3B
Last Modified: Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012 - 2:54 pm

El Dorado County is joining the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association lawsuit seeking to block the state's $150-a-year fire fee on rural properties.

The taxpayers association announced the suit earlier this month in a bid to end the program applied to 825,000 rural parcels with habitable structures and to seek refunds for property owners who have already paid the fee. So far, tens of thousands of parcel owners have paid.

The El Dorado County Board of Supervisors on Oct. 16 unanimously agreed to join the lawsuit.

"Hundreds of residents have contacted the county to voice their frustration about the fire tax," Supervisor John Knight said in a statement about the vote. "The Board of Supervisors can't sit idly by while the state is running a legalized extortion scheme on rural residents."

The suit filed in Sacramento Superior Court alleges that the fee, collected since August, was approved illegally, without the necessary two-thirds majority of lawmakers.

Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative Democrats approved the fee as part of the 2011 budget deal. The state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and Board of Equalization are responsible for carrying it out.

Affected parcels are in the "State Responsibility Area" outside city boundaries and served by the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

While the fee is $150 per year, a $35 discount applies if the structure is also within the boundaries of a local fire protection district.

El Dorado County, which owns a number of parcels with habitable structures, also has paid the fee.

The county received bills for five separate properties, including sites purchased for a road right-of-way, a homeless facility, residential property next to a corporation yard and a mine disposal site, according to spokesman Mike Applegarth.

Applegarth said the county paid, but did so under protest.

Critics complain that the charge, which will generate about $85 million annually for the state starting in fiscal 2012-13, will make it harder for local fire districts to raise money. And, they say, there is no new service in exchange for the fee to be imposed across more than 30 million acres of California wildland and watershed areas.

Gov. Brown this year has waged a campaign to charge rural residents for the costs of fire protection since an increasing number of people have moved to wildland areas.

The greater the number of homes in rural areas, state fire officials say, the higher the cost of fighting fires.

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