Appeal process may delay 2012-13 state fire protection fee bills

Published: Thursday, Mar. 21, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 2B
Last Modified: Thursday, Mar. 21, 2013 - 7:58 am

Property owners subject to an annual state fire protection fee may be billed later in the year than expected.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has asked the State Board of Equalization to postpone the billing for fiscal 2012-13 while Cal Fire completes its review of appeals filed by property owners.

Under a state law passed in 2011, approximately 800,000 owners of habitable structures within the state's responsibility area – the area in which the state of California is financially responsible for prevention and suppression of wildfires – are subject to the fire protection fee.

The first bills, for fiscal year 2011-12, were mailed between August and December 2012.

Of the approximately 800,000 property owners billed, about 87,000 filed appeals or requests for redetermination, said Daniel Berlant, Cal Fire spokesman, explaining that each of those requests must be reviewed.

About 71 percent of the appeals were denied because they involved issues that Cal Fire has no statutory basis to approve, Berlant said.

Approximately 12,000 appeals were approved, but "we still have hundreds if not thousands to go through," he said.

Although the majority of cases are fairly cut and dried, Berlant said, others require research or a review of documents if, for example, the issue is whether the structure billed for is a home or whether the person billed is the owner. "We're committed to making sure that we're as accurate as possible," Berlant said.

Cal Fire has never informed property owners that billing would occur at a specific time, although the intent was to mail bills during the spring or summer, he said.

Although property owners within the state's responsibility area may be required to pay a fee of as much as $150 per habitable structure, those that are within the boundaries of a local fire protection agency receive a $35 reduction.

Berlant said 97 percent of the 800,000 property owners subject to the fee qualify for the reduction, paying $115 per year.

Call The Bee's Cathy Locke, (916) 321-5287.

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